Grant fights fires before they start Firefighters install 10,000 free smoke detectors


Ernestine Kearney, 71, was burned out of her Ensor Street home a few weeks ago, and three days ago, she moved into another East Baltimore rowhouse. She had no time to install a smoke detector in her new residence.

But with the help of a $400,000 federal grant, the Baltimore Fire Department gave her a free lifesaving device yesterday, and installed it above a kitchen entrance way.

"I think this is excellent," said Ms. Kearney, who has lived in the dTC city for 27 years. "I don't want to be without one. I can't do it myself."

Firefighters and 20 volunteers fanned out yesterday to hundreds of homes to deliver and install 10,000 free smoke detectors for people living in the heart of the newly designated empowerment zone.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this saves lives," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, holding up a smoke detector in one hand and a battery in the other while standing at Holbrook and Federal streets.

The Fire Department announced the federal grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March, the same day a fire claimed the lives of a grandmother and two children in an East Baltimore blaze.

A separate local campaign already had allowed firefighters to give away 4,000 detectors. Now, they have 10,000. The federal agency will study Baltimore's program to see if lives can be saved. Six jurisdictions received a similar grant, but Baltimore is the only urban center being studied.

This year, 33 people have died in fires in Baltimore -- 11 of them children. Two triple-fatal fires in March could have been averted if smoke detectors had been installed properly, fire officials have said. In one home, firefighters found the lifesaving devices tucked in a dresser drawer in the same room where two children died.

"We know that over 85 percent of the deaths and disabilities will be averted if we have working smoke detectors in the home," said Dr. Martin P. Wasserman, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

"I've dealt with children who have been burned and scalded as a result of fires in the home," Dr. Wasserman said. "It is a terrible, terrible way to be injured."

The program will help people like Naomi Thompson, 69, who lives in the 1600 block of Holbrook St. She said her smoke detector "just conked out" about four months ago, and her landlord has yet to replace it.

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