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<p>Volunteers for the Red Cross distributed free fire alarms this weekend in at-risk neighborhoods in Wake and Brunswick counties.
By Rose Hoban
Hundreds of volunteers knocked on doors throughout Wake and Brunswick counties this past weekend in an effort to save lives.
Organized by the Eastern North Carolina chapter of the American Red Cross, the volunteers looked to install hundreds of fire alarms in homes at risk for fire: mobile homes, older homes and homes in low-income neighborhoods.
In Raleigh, about 20 teams of three to five volunteers from Service Raleigh, NC State University and the Red Cross, along with a handful of firefighters, knocked on every door of the Schenley Court mobile home community in the southeastern part of town. Each team knocked on several dozen doors.
“If someone came to the door, we would tell them we were with the Red Cross and we’re just making sure that smoke alarms are working and that they have a good number of them in their house,” said Craig Johnson, a junior at NC State who volunteered on one of the teams. “We also offered to check if they needed new batteries.”
According to Barry Porter, a public affairs officer for the eastern region Red Cross office, more than 25 teams fanned out across Brunswick County on Saturday to offer the same services.
Porter said the Red Cross was making a big push in Brunswick County after several home fires there resulted in five deaths since the beginning of March.
In Raleigh, the teams installed 67 alarms, while in Brunswick County volunteers installed about 650 alarms.
Bigger than a hurricane
“About seven people a day in the United States die in home fires annually,” Porter said. “In North Carolina, it was close to 2,200 homes that burned last year, killing about a hundred people.”
“If a hurricane or tornado came through and that number of people died, there’d be a big outcry. But when it happens slowly over a year, people don’t really take note,” he said.[pullquote_left]Want to know more? Check out the Red Cross Prevent Home Fires Campaign website [/pullquote_left]Porter said fire departments respond to close to 210,000 fires nationally every year, and a third of them are severe enough that by the time emergency services personnel arrive the home is destroyed. And when the fire fighters and emergency personnel leave, the Red Cross steps in.
“You’ve rushed out, awakened by a blaring alarm; meanwhile, your wallet, purse, glasses and essential medicines are all inside,” Porter said. “We make sure families have shelter, clothing, essential medications. Our nurses on the response teams talk to clients, get to doctors and explain what’s happened, work with pharmacies to get their prescriptions replaced before the person has emergency need.”
Since October 2014, he said, the Raleigh office has sponsored seven different events, installing more than 3,200 alarms during that time. Porter said the ultimate goal is to reduce deaths by home fires by 25 percent through the use of fire alarms.
Volunteers also worked with families to go through safety checklists and work with the occupants of the mobile homes on how to escape if there is a fire.
“We tell them don’t worry about saving things,” said Stacie Tindle, a regular Red Cross volunteer. “We give them a laminated diagram. We tell them you get out one exit, someone else gets out by another exit and someone else is crawling out a window. And we have them designate a meeting place outside.”
Tindle said designating a meeting place is important so that family members don’t escape only to think, ‘”Ohmigosh, she’s still inside.’”
She said that on average people have two minutes to get out of a burning structure before they’re likely to be injured, or killed.
One aspect of the visit was also troubleshooting with families to see if they were at fire risk.
Hugo Filliette from the French SKEMA business school program on the NC State campus is a Red Cross volunteer in his native France. He said he was surprised at the condition of some of the houses and how they were equipped.
He talked to one woman who had a heater sitting on the floor near her front door on a piece of carpet.
“During the night; it’s when people are sleeping. That is when fires start, and you only have two minutes to get out. In that case, if the heater were next to the door, you can’t reach the door because that is where the fire would start,” Filliette said. “I told her to change the position in the room so there’d be more chance to evacuate from the room. I also recommended a different model, one that’s safer.”
Four inches from the ceiling
Sherman Avery, 63, said he was delighted to have a group of NC State students show up at his door on a sunny weekend morning. The retired plumber has lived in his two-bedroom mobile home for more than 20 years and had alarms, but they were old.
“They changed mine altogether,” Avery said. He said the volunteers also told him they needed to put the new alarms in a different position.
In the past, most people installed smoke alarms on the ceiling. But according to updated Red Cross guidelines, they should be installed on a wall four inches below the ceiling and 12 inches from the nearest corner. Smoke climbs the walls and will hit an alarm on the wall sooner than it will trigger a ceiling alarm.
Avery commented on how professional the volunteers were. “I got grandchildren older than they were,” he chuckled. “They were so nice.”