By Colin Stevenson, Red Cross Volunteer
The Valley Glen neighborhood was still quiet when I pulled into Fire Station 89, the Fire Training Center for the region. I volunteered to work the Home Fire Prevention Campaign, a campaign to prevent deaths in home fires by providing education and free smoke detectors to families in areas with high numbers of fire fatalities. Red Cross tents and ERVS (Emergency Response Vehicles) were scattered around. The volunteers at registration couldn’t have been nicer.
The Head of County Preparedness and the Fire Chief called us to order. They thanked us for being there. We were to canvass the neighborhood that day, telling people about fire safety, and installing the free smoke detectors in homes without them. They told us we would be saving lives by doing this. And that’s when it began to hit me. As we gathered for a group photo, the photographer called, “Squeeze in.” I choked up.
All of these people around me had given their Saturday morning to install free smoke detectors in homes that couldn’t afford them or simply didn’t have them, to save lives. It wasn’t about me; it was about our community. Sixteen people had died in house fires in that neighborhood in the last five years, and 14 others had been injured. And we were going to prevent that from happening.
After some basic fire safety training on preventing fires, making evacuation plans, and having a meeting place, we set out in groups of one installer, one educator, and one documenter. Our group had 4 people so I helped with the installs and education. The first house we visited took 5 detectors. They had none. And they took our information too about making two simple evacuation routes, staying low to the ground, feeling a door with the back of your hand to see if it’s hot before opening it, always keeping an eye on what you’re cooking – the number one cause of house fires. They were so thankful. The second house took 4 smoke detectors. We installed them in the bedrooms and hallway like we’d been taught. They had two detectors that weren’t working. They said they knew of the Red Cross and although their English was limited, their appreciation was not.
After distributing a dozen more packets teaching basic fire safety and escape plans to the neighborhood, we finished with one more house. I helped install 4 more smoke detectors in a house that also had no working ones. The occupants were Hurricane Sandy survivors. They practically begged us to take water to refresh us as we installed and taught them. As they thanked me for all that the Red Cross does, a slight tear came to my eye.
All I had done was given a few hours on a Saturday morning, but I was going home knowing that I may have saved countless lives. My first day was about me. It was about me helping people. I think next time I might even take the carpool.