More Roanoke Fire-EMS in the News

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Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Can police find your house?

By Lindsey Nair 981-3334

Officials say missing or poorly displayed house numbers waste precious moments in what could be life-threatening situations.
Roanoke County Detective Dale Clark was responding to a volatile domestic fight recently when he found himself looking at five houses on a private drive, only two of which were numbered.
Neither number was the one he was looking for.
Fortunately for the victim, Clark randomly chose the correct house and verified ownership by running vehicle tags through his data terminal, but it is not always that easy. Officials say missing or poorly displayed house numbers waste precious moments in what could be life-threatening situations.
“It’s a real significant issue, and it’s getting worse. It’s not getting better,” said
Roanoke Fire-EMS Assistant Chief Ralph Tartaglia.
When police officers, firefighters and medics have trouble finding a house, it compromises the safety of citizens. Roanoke police Sgt. R.S. Kahl says it can also endanger police officers who aren’t sure which house to approach with caution.
Local ordinances in Roanoke and Roanoke County do provide instructions regarding house number display, including the required size of such numbers and the location where they must be posted. Regardless of the codes, however, some homeowners pay attention to the visibility of their numbers and some do not.
“It’s not really a thing of negligence on people’s part,” Tartaglia said. “They just don’t think about it.”
Homes with no number at all are part of the problem, but responders also dislike house numbers that are poorly positioned or not well maintained, because they are hard to see from the street.
Sometimes numbers are on a lamppost in the yard, other times on a porch railing, the front steps or the curb by the street. In more rural areas, numbers might be painted on a rock, nailed on a tree or displayed on a decorative sign in a flower bed.
Even more difficult to find are numbers that are black on brown, white on white or hidden behind a bush.
Roanoke Fire-EMS Lt. Richard Alley, who recently responded to a carbon monoxide alarm at a house with no number, suggests that city residents affix their house number close to the front door and as close to a porch light as possible. A number on a porch railing is sometimes invisible in the dark because the porch light is behind it, he said.
Residents should always turn on their porch lights at night, especially when they’ve made a 911 call, Tartaglia said. If they cannot turn on the light, it helps if the house numbers are made of reflective material. That way, the floodlights on fire engines will easily light the numbers.
“If it is bad weather, it is really hard to see if it is not reflective,” said Roanoke County Fire and Rescue Division Chief Steve Poff.
Roanoke rescuers say poorly marked apartment buildings are a big issue. In the county, Clark said, his pet peeve is private drives with a cluster of several mailboxes at the end. If the houses themselves aren’t numbered, responders are left wondering which mailbox goes with which house.
Clark said houses with only one numbered mailbox at the end of the driveway are suitable, but Tartaglia warns that citizens should number both sides of the mailbox instead of just one.
“I don’t know that my trucks are going to come from the same direction the mailman comes,” he said.
Emergency responders say that at the very least, residents should take a moment to survey their home the next time they drive up in their vehicle. If they cannot easily see their house number, it might be time for a trip to the hardware store.
Said Tartaglia: “Anything that the citizens can do to help us with the visibility has the potential to be a life-saving measure.”

(C)2005 The Roanoke Times

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