Carroll County Times
Carroll County Lifestyles

Dayhoff: Tragic reminder of the need to practice fire safety this holiday season

On Nov. 7, two people died in a tragic fire in Sykesville. The tragedy serves as a grim reminder of the vagaries of fire, Mother Nature, and calamity in our communities, and provides us with a wake-up call to be ever mindful of the dangers in our homes — especially during the upcoming holiday season.

Fire safety during the holidays was a message reinforced by Jamie Petry, an experienced interior attack fire fighter and the Westminster Fire Engine and Hose Co. No. 1 president, at last Monday’s meeting of the Westminster Mayor and Common Council. She reminded everyone to be extra careful during the holiday season. Christmas and Thanksgiving are busy times — but no time to let your guard down. The danger is real.


The basics of fire safety are something that every family needs to constantly practice. One thing you can do right away is put fresh batteries in your smoke alarm(s) and make sure these basic safety devices are working properly. The next thing you can do is talk with your family about a fire escape plan.

Last week the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office reported that it was investigating the Nov. 7 “fatal house fire in Sykesville that resulted in the death of two residents … Winfield and Sykesville Fire Departments reported to the scene…”


According to an article in the Carroll County Times, by writer Mary Grace Keller, “The body of a dog was also found in the house. … The Sykesville fire department tweeted that it found one victim on a stairway and the other on the second floor of the home. …”

In her article, Keller explained that “According to Emily Witty, public information officer for the Office of the State Fire Marshal, authorities did not find any smoke detectors in the house…” Witty said that there is ‘unfortunately, a huge increase in likelihood of not surviving a fire if you’re not alerted in time to be able to get out.'”

Thirty years ago you had 15 minutes to get out of the house in the event of a fire. Today, that time frame has been reduced to approximately 3 minutes as a result of the increased use of unnatural manufactured materials in furniture and home construction.

An article in Good Housekeeping magazine on Nov. 13, 2014 quoted the Red Cross to say, “It only takes about five minutes for a fire to consume your entire house. And with one in seven people dying in a house fire each day, there’s little room for error…”

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Fortunately for us in Carroll County there is a rich history and tradition of citizens coming together to volunteer their time for the 14 fire companies in Carroll.

In the Sykesville–Eldersburg area, there are several references to a “Sykesville Fire Company” in old newspaper articles, after Sykesville incorporated in 1904, but it appears that it was not until the summer 1933 that the predecessor to what we now know as the Sykesville-Freedom District Fire Department was formerly organized.

The dangers of fire in the community is nothing new in Sykesville. The April 13, 1923 edition of the Democratic Advocate carried a headline: “Mr. and Mrs. John Harris, With Baby Ill from Pneumonia, Flee in Night-Clothes.” The article declares that the fire “… threatened to destroy the town of Sykesville. … At one time the Harris house, the town hall, the jail, and the ‘old volunteer house,’ occupied by the fire company, were in flames. … Hardly more than a bucket brigade, the Sykesville Volunteer Fire Company is said to have done excellent work in fighting the flames until the arrival of the Westminster company.”

According to a history posted on the Sykesville-Freedom District Fire Department’s website, on “September 18, (1933) the first members of the Sykesville Fire Department were elected. They included: J. Marion Harris – President, H. Lester Phelps - Vice President, Celius L. Brown – Secretary, J. Nevin Ports – Treasurer, and Leo F. Chrobot- Chief.”


Carroll County firefighters are among our greatest heroes. They take time away from their families and risk their lives daily to protect us and our homes. Carroll County firefighters are also the friendliest folks. They like to eat and tell great stories. The best way to meet them is to stop by a local station with food. We can thank them best by being ever-vigilant this holiday season so that they do not have to take time away from their families to come meet you at your house in the middle of the night.

In full disclosure the Carroll County Times correspondent, Kevin Dayhoff, is the chaplain, assistant secretary, and PIO for the Westminster Fire Department and his wife, Caroline Babylon is the treasurer. They come from a tradition of firefighters with Westminster that goes back as far as four generations.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at