Sunday, September 11, 2016

Red Cross, firefighters, other volunteers canvass town to install free smoke alarms and educate citizens

By Claire Johnson
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Nathan Bardeen of Eastern Kentucky University installed an alarm.
(Photos by Shawn McLuckie, American Red Cross)
Many residents of Midway got an early wake-up call Saturday as members of the American Red Cross, community volunteers and area fire departments offered free installation and battery replacement of smoke alarms.

The project was part of the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign.

Steve Powell, the Red Cross disaster program manager for the Bluegrass area, said the mission of the campaign is to reduce the number of home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent by 2019.

“Kentucky really took an initiative with this program and leadership to make it a priority,” Powell said.

Fifteen members of the Red Cross and up to 30 volunteers from the community and fire departments met at Midway Baptist Church before setting out to their specified destinations on maps.

From morning to afternoon, Red Cross workers, volunteers, Eastern Kentucky University Fire & Safety program members and firefighters from the Midway and Woodford County fire departments worked door to door installing small smoke alarms and educating citizens about them.

Three-member teams, one Red Cross representative and two assistants, visited on roughly 20 houses before re-supplying or receiving a map of a different neighborhood.

Quinton Godfrey of EKU watched Nathan Bardeen and Sally Higgins of the Red Cross.
A red vest and two fire department volunteers greeted the citizens as they went door to door with supplies and safety information.

Chief Gerald Walsh of the Versailles Fire Department designed the map of the town with highlighted areas.

“I arrange the streets by how many houses there were,” Walsh said. “As they finish the street, I will hand them another map.”

Anne Peters, 58, who has lived in Midway for about 12 years, thought her smoke detector was fine until one of the teams found that it needed to be replaced.

“I had sort of been counting on it working,” Peters said with a laugh. “So if it’s not working and they catch that, that’s definitely helpful.”

After installing a detector, the teams made sure residents like Peters knew two different exit plans to use in case of fire, and took down their information to keep track of what they did in each home.

The Home Fire Campaign, according to Powell, is on pace to install about 5,000 smoke alarms this year in Kentucky.

“Certainly it never hurts to have somebody remind you,” Peters said. “A lot of people have lived here since the neighborhoods were built, so they might not know about the regulations on smoke alarms.”

Bobby Allison, one Midwegian who had a home smoke alarm installed Saturday, agreed that it can be hard to remember them.

“I don’t know how many people actually check them, or if they think they’re just going to work forever, because they’re not,” Allison said. “I try to check mine as much as I can when I think about it, but at 77 sometimes you forget.”

Midway firefighter Joe Hudson said reminding seniors is a prime benefit of the campaign.

“We have a lot of older families that live in Midway and they don’t even think about the smoke detectors until it’s brought to their attention,” Hudson said.

Hudson recalled a woman who was hearing impaired and did not know Red Cross offered bedside alarms. Hudson said one of the teams arranged for a Red Cross member to contact her soon and get a bedside alarm for her.

“There’s a lot of them that’s very happy to see us out in the community doing this for them,” Hudson said. “Midway is such a small, rural community. You know, we’re kind of like the little back leg of the county and nobody really thinks about it or anything until sometimes it’s too late.”

Powell said issues like Hudson mentioned are exactly why the Red Cross tries to aid rural communities like Midway in the Home Fire Campaign.

“Not all of the rural towns are able to staff full-time fire departments,” Powell said. “A lot of them are volunteer services,” Powell said.

Powell said the Home Fire Campaign has already been documented saving three lives in Western Kentucky.

He said most people might not know how much fire work the Red Cross does.

“I think when people think of the Red Cross they think of natural disasters, but primarily what we respond to weekly are home fires,” Powell said.

Shawn McLuckie of the Red Cross said educating citizens and reducing fire deaths are the main goals of this campaign.

“This is completely free to all residents; we’re not charging them a thing,” McLuckie said. “I feel it’s very good to come in to these communities and do this. It gives the power of choice to the communities. It’s reducing fire death and it’s making educated community members.”

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