By Jarrett Barrios, Los Angeles Region CEO
Last weekend, I joined hundreds of volunteers to Sound the Alarm and install free smoke alarms in Sylmar. The weekend before, we were in Compton. This upcoming Saturday, I’ll be in South LA, then East LA on the following Saturday. Here’s why.
Annually, the American Red Cross responds to nearly 64,000 disasters and the vast majority of these are home fires. Every day, seven people are killed and another 36 suffer injuries as a result of those fires—most because they didn’t have working smoke alarms.
We’ve been working to save lives and help end home fire tragedies with our Home Fire Campaign since 2014. We do it by going door to door in local communities where residents are most vulnerable to home fires, installing free smoke alarms, educating families on safety and helping them to create fire escape plans. All told, these efforts have been documented to have saved 415 lives.
Last Saturday began like any other alarm installation day, just a little bigger because it was what we call a “signature event,” where we push to have over 200 volunteers from the community, corporate partners, faith partners and schools. It felt like a success from the start. 70 kids from the Junior ROTC came, and another 60 youth from the North Valley Military Institute joined us for a total of over 250 volunteers. For my part, I was placed on a team of three people: one installer, one educator and one documenter. As the educator, my job was to educate home owners—typically, entirely in Spanish– on risk-reduction and to help make fire escape plans so that everyone in the residence knows at least two ways to get out of the structure, safely, in two minutes or less.
Alarms, education and escape plans are very important, particularly in light of recent Red Cross survey data that reveals Americans to be overconfident and underprepared about Home Fire Safety. Not only that, of the over 600 people surveyed, we found that 80 percent of people believe everyone in their household knows what to do when a smoke alarm goes off, but less than half actually have a plan in place. This is why our Sound the Alarm events are so important. Yes, we go into the homes and actually place new working smoke alarms on the walls and ceilings for free but, we also make sure each resident knows that having properly working smoke alarms is only one component to surviving a home fire—that everyone who lives in the home must also know and practice an effective fire escape plan.
Saturday’s Sylmar event was a success. We installed, with our partners from MySafeLA, board members, youth club members and community leaders, over 930 alarms. I went home Saturday night feeling proud.
I woke up Sunday heartbroken when I learned that, just hours after we left Sylmar, there was a fatal fire near to where we had canvassed with alarms. Here is the worst part: the home did not have a properly working smoke alarm. Imagine if we had had even more volunteers out on Saturday. Imagine if we had canvassed the entire neighborhood of Sylmar. Yes, with more volunteers, more financial resources, more partners, and more time, we might have reached that house with a free alarm and, quite possibly, saved another life.
The world only spins forward. For us, this means we will install as many free smoke alarms as possible, next Saturday in South LA, and the following Saturday in East LA. The more volunteers we have at these events, the more homes we can get into; and the more homes we can get into, the more lives we can save. If you live in LA, please join us. Go to preparesocal.org/soundthealarm to sign up to volunteer or text STALA to 62661 to register right from your phone.
I also want to remind everyone that when you are out on the streets, in the homes and doing the amazing life-saving work that you do so well, to share your memories. Post your photos, videos and stories on social media for us to share by tagging @RedCrossLA and using #EndHomeFires. This will generate more awareness on the importance of home fire safety and potentially, help us save even more lives.
Jarrett Barrios is the Chief Executive Officer at the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region.
To learn more about Jarrett Barrios or the America Red Cross Los Angeles Region, visit RedCrossLA.org