“In a 12-month period starting in December 2013, we had three home fire deaths and a near miss right here in Flagstaff,” reported Battalion Chief Pat Stakey, Fire Marshal of the Flagstaff Fire Department. “We launched an investigation and found three common threads. The victims were all senior citizens over 60 years in age. They all lived alone [in a rental property]. And none of them had a working smoke detector.”
“We looked at these trends and then started working with Scot and Frank [of the American Red Cross] to increase awareness and distribute smoke detectors and batteries,” said Flagstaff Fire Department Captain Jared Saylor. In 2014, the two agencies began targeting senior citizens and Flagstaff neighborhoods that have a high percentage of rental units with frequent occupant turnover. The Summit and Highlands Fire Departments joined the Flagstaff Fire Department to partner in the American Red Cross program called the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign.
Since then, the fire departments, along with American Red Cross volunteers, have canvassed four neighborhoods, knocking on doors and inspecting smoke detectors. In south Sunnyside, the Northern Arizona University Red Cross Club and on-duty and off-duty firefighters installed 31 smoke alarms and 27 batteries. Forty-eight percent of the homes visited had no working smoke alarms. If no one was home, volunteers left behind door hangers that asked the residents to call the Red Cross or the Flagstaff Fire Department to schedule an inspection.
The smoke detectors and batteries are provided to residents free of charge by the Red Cross. “We received a $2,000 grant from the Coconino County Supervisors to buy smoke alarms,” said American Red Cross of Northern Arizona Executive Director Frank E. Bourget.
In the second neighborhood canvas, volunteers from APS and firefighters walked door to door, visiting 117 north Sunnyside homes where they installed 57 smoke alarms and 36 batteries. As many as 93 percent of the homes did not have working smoke alarms. Firefighters also checked the manufacturers’ dates on the smoke alarms. If the alarm was more than 10 years old, it was replaced. If the alarm was inoperable because of the absence of batteries or dead batteries, then batteries were installed.
“The smoke alarms that we install now are 10-year smoke alarms that are sealed so you can’t take the batteries out,” said Saylor, who has also given presentations to civic groups like the Elks and Lions clubs in efforts to increase awareness of the program.
Volunteer students from NAU Athletics joined on-duty and off-duty firefighters to walk the Mobile Haven neighborhood northwest of the Flagstaff Mall last November. They left 204 door hangers and visited 21 homes to find that none had working smoke alarms. Twenty-five smoke alarms were installed and nine batteries were replaced. Besides smoke alarm and battery testing and replacement, the volunteers also educated residents, left pamphlets and planned escape routes complete with planned meeting places in the event of home fires.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, volunteers from NAU Athletics Women’s Soccer program and firefighters walked the neighborhood north of NAU and south of the BNSF railroad tracks. They knocked on doors, visited 34 homes and left 208 door hangers. Only five percent of the homes had working smoke alarms.
“This program and the Flagstaff Fire Department are saving lives,” said Gene Munger,
board chairman for the American Red Cross of Northern Arizona. “This is a ‘good news’ story.”
“Gene Munger is a champion for doing what’s right and letting the community know what’s happening,” added Bourget. In addition to the neighborhood campaigns, fire department vehicles carry red and black tool bags containing smoke detectors, batteries and educational materials.
“Kudos to Flagstaff HomeCo Lumber and Hardware, [which] has provided the bags at less than their cost,” said American Red Cross volunteer Scot Jackson. When fire crews are at a non-fire event, they can provide home residents with smoke alarm inspection, and if needed, provide the alarm and or batteries from the bags carried on their vehicles.
“Nationwide, the Red Cross responds to 30 home fires per day,” said Jackson. “Seven people per day die in home fires. That’s greater than deaths in all natural disasters combined.”
The American Red Cross began the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign in 2013 with a goal to reduce home fire injuries and deaths by 25 percent in five years. “Since the program’s inception, 38 peoples’ lives have been saved nationally because of the smoke alarms, the educational material and by practicing escape plans,” said Jackson, the American Red Cross chapter preparedness coordinator. Each time a smoke detector is enabled by the program’s volunteers, the address is added to the national Red Cross database to track the program’s success.
Currently, the Flagstaff Fire Department is receiving one call per week in response to the door hangers. The American Red Cross of Northern Arizona is getting one to two calls nearly every week.
By Stacey Wittig
To donate time or money, or request a speaker or inspection, call 928-779-5494.
American Red Cross of Northern Arizona
1750 Railroad Springs Blvd, Suite #1, Flagstaff
Flagstaff Fire Department
211 W Aspen Ave, Flagstaff