Nineteen Southern Maryland American Red Cross volunteers and Charles County volunteer firefighters and EMTs joined forces Saturday morning to install 167 smoke alarms in Nanjemoy. The installations were part of the “Sound the Alarm” home smoke alarm campaign by the American Red Cross.
Brenda Price, a Nanjemoy homeowner who had the volunteer team replace and add some smoke alarms after being approached by a team member, said, “I think it is actually amazing that people are doing this.”
“I didn’t know anything about this, but this is really awesome,” she added.
As the volunteer crews traveled in their emergency vehicles to homes requesting free fire alarms, the crews stopped at houses along the way that were not on their list to see if they too needed alarms.
Flitting between the teams that spread out over the rural Nanjemoy area was a large American Red Cross van that resupplied each team as they ran low on the smoke alarms that were supplied in large cloth bags along with drills and installation hardware.
Joseph Hurst, American Red Cross Disaster Program manager for Southern Maryland and director of Saturday’s event, also traveled between the teams coordinating the installations and checking on each team’s status.
Many of the homeowners did not know that the smoke alarms, which only need to be replaced every 10 years, were being provided free of charge. A number of the homes needed more than one smoke detector, with the teams placing alarms in kitchens and living and sleeping areas.
Some, who had smoke alarms installed when the house was built, were told those alarms could not be replaced since they were hardwired into the house. These owners did have the option of having one of the Red Cross supplied alarms installed next to the existing alarm, though.
William Smith, coordinator and public information officer for the Charles County Volunteer Fireman’s Association and Charles County Association of Medical Services, said that another round of fire alarm installations in Nanjemoy will be scheduled in the coming weeks to finish the job, along with new installations in the La Plata area within the next few months.
“Working with Kelly Crouse, we are targeting 200 to 300 homes in the Nanjemoy area,” Hurst said. Crouse is the fire chief at the Nanjemoy Volunteer Fire Department.
“We are going to hit what we can, because the area is pretty spread out, but for everyone who opens their door to us, they will be given the fire alarms they need,” he said. “We pre-canvassed and advertised that we were coming and provided approximate times we would be there.”
“We sent out ahead of time a request for citizens to sign up for an appointment to install alarms. We have a list of 30 to 40 addresses that are asking for smoke alarms today,” Smith said. “We are making sure to hit the homes that made appointments, and along the way we will stop and ask homeowners if they would like us to install smoke alarms.”
Smith pointed out that those who weren’t home were provided a notice of the campaign on the home’s front doorknob.
Hurst explained that he worked with Smith, Crouse and the firemen’s association’s fire prevention officer, J.W. King, to determine the areas most likely to need the free alarms.
“We start with the ruby red areas on our ‘E’ maps. Ruby red means an area of high risk or one with a lot of fire department responses. The definition of high risk can vary from social economics to us knowing that there are lot of non-working smoke alarms or fire hydrants in an area,” Hurst said.
The smoke alarms being provided by the Red Cross campaign cost $40 to $50 each, according to Hurst, with national donors, such as the Walt Disney Corp., and thousands of individual donors, paying for them.
“The alarms are free to the public,” he said.
“Since the program started in 2015, we have installed about 1.2 million units,” Hurst said, “saving about 650 lives. Basically the number of lives saved are those who had fires in homes in which our program installed smoke alarms.”
Smith said there are about 1,200 active and retired volunteer firefighters and EMS volunteers in the two Charles County associations.
“That includes both operational and administrative personnel who are on the rolls” he said.
Smith, who has been the public service officer of the associations for six years, added, “Not a one of them are paid. I am the only one paid.” He said his position is funded by the two associations from government funds the groups receive.