Md. Fire Safety Officials Accelerate Checking of Retailers For Holidays

December 1, 2005

Fire safety officials are keeping an eye on retail centers during the holiday season to make sure store exits are clear.

The program is called “Life Safety,” and it involves unannounced checks that have started throughout Salisbury.

“Stores are under pressure from the out-of-town (parent) companies, and we want to make sure people are not closing off exits (with extra merchandise),” said Ed Torbert, a fire protection specialist with the Wicomico County fire Prevention Division.

“In the next couple of days, we’ll (accelerate) our checking. We want to make sure people can get through in the event of an emergency. You never know when you will have to evacuate,” he said.

Life Safety is an annual program to ensure that increased quantities of holiday merchandise don’t block exits, Torbert said.

The program also keeps track of the number of shoppers in a retail space.

“Capacity and exits are what we start looking at,” Torbert said. “We issue reminders to store owners to keep emergency exits clear.”
Retail outlets at The Centre at Salisbury shopping mall and other large department stores are being inspected.

Circuit City is taking more measures during the holiday season, said Teresa Passen, manager at the North Salisbury Boulevard store where Friday “was crazy” with an above-average number of shoppers.

“Today, we used a clicker counter; it could count people going in and coming out,” she said. “We had a lot of shoppers and we wanted to make sure everybody who came in for bargain sales was safe.”
Store aisles are between 3-feet and 5-feet wide and easily assessable for wheelchairs, Passen said. Merchandise not ready for shelves is stored where boxes don’t obstruct passageways to restrooms or exits.

“We look for avenues to put things where they don’t cause a blockage,” she said. “We ensure safety at all exits and we have wide aisles to benefit the handicapped.”

A spot check earlier this week did uncover an unnamed violator, Torbert said. The problem, he said, was immediately remedied.
“We spoke to the management and it was taken care of while we were there,” he said. “I don’t think it will happen again.”

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