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Winfield fire company teaches residents fire safety, prevention

Most families don't ever think they'll be the victim of a fire, according to Debbie Gartrell-Kemp, prevention and life safety chairwoman for the Winfield Community Volunteer fire company. Even adults sometimes disregard fire safety and prevention measures, she said.

"But they're good reminder for everyone," Gartrell-Kemp said.

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In an attempt to educate the community about life and fire safety techniques and facts, the fire company's members will sponsor their annual Fire Safety Open House noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17.

The event features tours of fire equipment, demonstrations, games, food and more. The tips the members provide are catered toward children roughly 6 and older, but adults can also benefit from the lessons, Gartrell-Kemp said.

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Gartrell-Kemp and other fire company volunteers will walk attendees through an interactive exhibit called the Safety House, an approximate 35-foot trailer that features three rooms: living room, kitchen and bedroom. Those rooms house some of the most common fire catalysts, Gartrell-Kemp said.

You should never run cords underneath a rug in a living room because they can become warm and catch the fabric on fire, Gartrell-Kemp said. You should also ensure that a fireplace cover is in place to stop escaping sparks.

Adults should also always monitor food on the stove or in the oven. When cooking, turn the pot handles facing inward to avoid knocking them over, Gartrell-Kemp said. They should also apply child-safety locks to cabinets so young children are barred from any poisonous materials.

Roughly 50 to 60 percent of calls to a fire company involve a kitchen fire, according to Deputy Fire Marshal Tim Warner, with the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

"It'll be food on the stove that has started to smoke," Warner said. "Or maybe a single person or teenager that fell asleep while they were cooking."

If a bedroom is on the second floor of a home, a safety ladder should be accessible, like under the bed. Gartrell-Kemp also teaches the children to cram pliable objects under the door - stuffed animals and toys - to prevent smoke from leaking in. She also said never to open a door during a fire without first testing the knob with the back of your hand.

Acquainting children with fire company is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the event, said Mary Ellen Wilson, member of the Winfield ladies' auxiliary. Wilson is helping coordinate the refreshments of the event - free hot dogs, chips, cookies and punch - as well as fire safety games that will be housed in the engine bay.

Younger children are often scared of firefighters during a fire, Wilson said. The masked firefighters will frighten the children, who, panicked, will often hide. The games help familiarize them with some the equipment and firefighters in a fun way, Wilson said.

A moon bounce and fire engine will occupy the bay, as well as a cornhole game that requires the children to answer questions that they might need to know when calling 911 - like their address or a location to meet during the fire.

"It's good to open up dialogue between a parent and child," Wilson said.

Also, a member of the fire company will be distributing two free smoke alarms to the first 55 individuals in attendance - limit two per household. Between 300 and 500 individuals attend every year, according to Gartrell-Kemp.

The smoke alarms comply with new Maryland legislation that dictates battery-powered smoke alarms be replaced with new units. These units are sealed and powered by 10-year batteries that cannot be replaced, only thrown away. The new smoke alarms cost about $20, Gartrell-Kemp said, but the fire company received the alarms through the nonprofit Partnership for a Safer Maryland.

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This measure ensures that smoke alarm batteries won't be taken out and used for household items, like children's toys or a remote control, Warner said. If the smoke alarm sounds because someone burned a meal, a hush button can be pressed.

"It's kind of a fail-safe thing," Warner said.

Warner, who is also a captain with the fire company, said that elementary school children are most open and excited to learning fire safety. Winfield volunteers visit Winfield Elementary and Linton Springs Elementary schools in Sykesville every year, he said.

"They take it the most serious," he said. "They always ask questions and are always excited to learn 'Stop, Drop and Roll.'"

For more information about the free open house, you can contact Gartrell-Kemp at 410-795-1333 ext. 336 or visit the Winfield fire company website at winfieldvfd.org.

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