by Annie Niu, Red Cross Youth Summer Intern
Out of the thousands of disasters the American Red Cross responds to every year, only one happens nearly every nine minutes – home fires. And nearly 60 percent of home fire deaths occur in homes without working smoke alarms.
Having a working smoke alarm and practicing a fire escape plan can save lives. That’s why I joined the Red Cross Home Fire Prevention volunteers in Bell Gardens on June 27, 2015 to provide free smoke alarms and home fire safety instructions to local residents.
Red Cross volunteers and members of local police Explorer groups came together to help reduce the high rate of home fire injuries and deaths. After receiving and putting on my American Red Cross vest, I was placed in group to canvas a neighborhood.
As a documenter, my primary role was to ensure that activities are properly documented and that all acknowledgements of service are completed. However, I was also there to learn.
For the first half of the day, we visited homes that had already been contacted to install and replace smoke alarms for free. During each home visit, I curiously watched the installer check or install the smoke alarms and carefully listened to the safety educator gave the family members home fire safety tips.
I was shocked by how little I knew about home fire safety. However I was extremely glad to know all the home fire safety tips, including: smoke alarms need to be tested every month and replaced every ten years; there should be smoke alarms installed on every level of the house; and turn portable heaters off when you leave the room or go to sleep, etc. I learned the importance of having a fire escape plan for the family because little did I know, my family and I may only have two minutes to escape during a home fire.
After lunch, our team was on the hunt to find homes that were interested in receiving free smoke alarms and home fire safety information. The people in almost every house we visited were interested in our service, and all of them either did not have smoke alarms installed in the right places, or the existing ones weren’t functioning anymore.
Would having all of the appropriate alarms installed on every floor and in every bedroom prevent a fire from starting? No. But if there is a working smoke alarm installed just outside of the kitchen where a fire starts, it will detect the fire in its earliest stage and sound the alarm throughout the home. While we will never know for certain, this can alert the family while there is still enough time to safely exit the home.
I left the home visits feeling proud that I was able to be a part of the service that brings a solution to keep the families safe and potentially save lives.
(See more photos by Roxanne Schorbach at https://www.flickr.com/photos/redcrosslaregion/sets/72157652831455974