It's common when firefighters investigate the aftermath of a fire to tell reporters there was no smoke detector or the battery on the smoke detector had run down and didn't warn the residents their home was on fire. The American Red Cross is hoping its "Sound the Alarm" program reduces those incidents.
New York State has done what it can, with a new requirement that the batteries in smoke alarms must last 10 years. That ends the annual tradition of changing the batteries at the beginning and end of Daylight Saving Time.
To enhance that effort, the Red Cross is giving away and installing free new smoke alarms and showing residents how to put together a family escape plan - just in case. Red Cross of Western and Central New York Regional CEO Alan Turner said there is a recent example of the value of the alarms.
"This includes Miriam Martinez, whose Bailey Avenue apartment caught fire in January 2017. The smoke alarms installed in her apartment by Red Cross volunteers just three weeks earlier were the only working smoke alarms in the entire complex," Turner said. "Because of those alarms, not only did Miriam get out safely, but she helped the other 16 residents in the building safely escape as well."
That is different from the seven people a day who die in home fires, mostly without smoke alarms. Turner pointed out that the Red Cross help people burned out of their home tens of thousands of times a year across the country.
State Sen. Robert Ortt (R-North Tonawanda) said smoke alarms save lives, city or rural, but particularly rural.
"It might be 10-15 minutes before a volunteer firefighter can get to the house, so having these smoke detectors, the 10 years is great, hard-wired is even better," Ortt said, "but just making sure people have working smoke detectors in their house, especially if you are in an older home or maybe you didn't have one or it wasn't required when it was built. There's no question. We always say everything we do saves lives. This really saves lives."
Last year, volunteers installed 2,100 free smoke detectors in Western New York and plan to do that again from the end of this month until May 11. The volunteers are even geared up for the many languages spoken in this area, with special electronic translation services.
"Whatever it is, we're going to go prepared. We're going to have Red Cross on," said Senior Disaster Program Manager Jose Latallabi. "I, personally, was in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria, so I know people saw us and I know our logo is one of the most recognizable in the world. So people will see that and hopefully open the door for us and invite us in so we can help them."