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Harford firehouses open for Fire Prevention Week

Melissa Blessing, left, of the Harford County Department of Emergency Services presents a County Executive Proclamation to Assistant Chief Rhonda Hinch of the Level Volunteer Fire Company with Kim Stritzinger, a Public Safety Dispatcher III and Sparky looking on. Harford fire companies are observing Fire Prevention Week this week, with several like Level holding open houses this past weekend and several others opening their doors this weekend.
Melissa Blessing, left, of the Harford County Department of Emergency Services presents a County Executive Proclamation to Assistant Chief Rhonda Hinch of the Level Volunteer Fire Company with Kim Stritzinger, a Public Safety Dispatcher III and Sparky looking on. Harford fire companies are observing Fire Prevention Week this week, with several like Level holding open houses this past weekend and several others opening their doors this weekend. (Courtesy of Robert Thomas / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

National Fire Prevention Week is being observed in Harford County this week through Saturday, and, for the second weekend in row, open house events are planned at area firehouses.

This weekend public events are planned at firehouses in Bel Air, Fallston and Jarrettsville.

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Chief Rudy Walter of the Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Company said Tuesday 800 to 1,000 people typically attend his company's open house.

"We always have a good turnout from the citizens in our communities the Jarrettsville fire company protects," Walter said.

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Fire Prevention Week is an initiative of the National Fire Protection Association, and it has been observed each year since 1922, during the week of Oct. 9, the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, which was Oct. 8 and 9, 1871, according to the National Fire Protection Association's website for Fire Prevention Week, http://www.firepreventionweek.org.

"The whole point of Fire Prevention Week is to raise the awareness to the general public of the concerns with regard to fire, the ways in which fire can be avoided, prevented, burn injuries prevented and the dollar loss from fires reduced, which has an economic impact to the community," Robert Thomas, spokesman for the Harford County Department of Emergency Services, said.

The theme of this year's Fire Prevention Week is the need to have working smoke detectors, and to test them every month.

Rich Gardiner, spokesman for the Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association, said people should maintain their smoke alarms in the same manner they maintain their vehicles.

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"Set a reminder on your cell phone or calendars for the same day each month to test your alarms," he stated in an email. "Make it a family experience and teach children at an early age the importance of smoke alarms."

Thomas said smoke detectors are part of "a total package" that also includes a residential or commercial fire safety plan, the proper practice of that plan and knowledge of how to recover from a fire.

Gardiner said families should walk through their homes to find the exit routes, and to ensure they are clear and accessible. He said a meeting location should be established, such as the mailbox, that is a safe distance from the home.

He noted the plan should be drawn on paper, and families should have their children help create it.

"On the market today are alarms that have a 10-year sealed battery," Gardiner wrote. "This means there is no changing of the battery, just testing of the device. How simple can it be?"

Open houses

Fire company open houses are a large part of educating the public about fire prevention, and visitors will also be able to interact with local law enforcement officials, learn the latest CPR techniques, see demonstrations of rescue operations, develop fire escape plans from their homes or businesses, learn the proper methods of using the 911 emergency service and interact with representatives of county agencies such as the Health Department and the Department of Emergency Services.

"Basically, we just want the public to not only be aware of fire prevention during this month, but throughout the year," Walter explained.

Residents can also get to know the members of their volunteer fire and EMS companies – fire and public safety officials in Harford noted many residents, especially those who have moved from a community with a paid fire service, do not know they are being protected by a volunteer force.

"We believe it is the best opportunity for the public to stop by, see what their neighbors are actually doing as volunteer fire and EMS personnel to support the community," Thomas said.

Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company held its open house Sept. 28, and the Level and Abingdon fire companies held their events last Saturday.

Abingdon Chief Monti Arrington said several hundred people typically attended his company's annual open house.

Arrington said visitors could experience a CPR drill, a demonstration of a rescue of a person trapped in a vehicle and children's activities.

He said visitors learned about "general safety within the home and how to escape the home in a fire or [another] type of emergency."

The Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company's open house will be held from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at the company's main firehouse at 109 S. Hickory Ave. in Bel Air.

The Fallston Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Company's open house will also take place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 2201 Carrs Mill Road in Fallston, and Jarrettsville's will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at 3825 Federal Hill Road in Jarrettsville.

Bel Air Town Commissioner Edward Hopkins, the past fire chief, said during a commissioners' meeting Monday the open house will overlap with the Bel Air Police Department's Child Safety Fair, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday in Shamrock Park – the Bel Air Lion's Club is also hosting the child safety event.

"It's the same period, and it's just two blocks away," Hopkins said of the open house.

Officials with the Norrisville Volunteer Fire Company have canceled their open house this year because of renovations being done to their fire station; Jason Testerman, a member of the company's board of directors, said via email Tuesday the company did hold its annual fire prevention assembly at Norrisville Elementary School last Friday.

"We are looking forward to our open house next year at the renovated station," Testerman wrote.

Economic toll of fires

Thomas also noted the extensive economic losses that are often the result of commercial fires, including the loss of jobs and tax revenue for the county.

"Some never recover and reopen," he said.

Thomas pointed to the June 2013 fire at Anderson Hardware in Joppa, which caused more than $1 million in damage, as an example of the kinds of hardship that linger after a fire.

Manager Dwight Deems, whose father Frank Albert Deems Jr. owns the store, said the family is working to reopen the store, but must ensure the financing and all county approvals are in place.

Plans for the store are scheduled to be presented to the Harford County Development Advisory Committee at its meeting this coming Wednesday, Oct. 15.

Deems said the effects of the fire have been devastating.

"I used to take my kids to work with me every day," he said. "My kids have struggled more than anything; they're used to see grandfather every day, now they don't."

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