KINGSTON — Borough Fire Chief Frank Guido doesn’t mince words when it comes to fire preparedness in the home.
“Smoke detectors save lives. That’s the bottom line,” Guido said.
He was equally blunt about the alternative.
“If you don’t have a working smoke detector in your home and you have a fire while you’re asleep, you’re probably going to die,” Guido added.
With that in mind, Guido opened his fire station to the American Red Cross Northeastern Pennsylvania Chapter and nearly 100 volunteers Saturday morning as the nonprofit group gathered for its latest “Sound the Alarm” event to distribute and install free smoke alarms in area homes.
Despite intermittent rain, Red Cross volunteers, off-duty firefighters and representatives from more than a dozen area groups and companies, including the Times Leader, fanned out across Kingston and Forty Fort. They knocked on doors offering smoke alarms to residents, and speaking to them about having an exit plan in case the unthinkable happens in their homes.
“Thanks to their efforts, we made 475 homes safer today,” said chapter Executive Director Bill Goldsworthy.
That key metric includes the installation of at least 542 smoke alarms — Red Cross officials were still tallying the day’s efforts late Saturday afternoon — as multiple devices were installed in some homes.
But Goldsworthy also was counting the impact of volunteers distributing fire safety literature to others, including some who already had alarms, about where to install them and when to replace them.
Launched in 2014, the Red Cross’ national home fire campaign already has installed more than 1.2 million smoke alarms across the country.
In our region, the agency and its volunteers have installed more than 10,000 smoke alarms over the past two years. Outreach efforts earlier this year focused on parts of Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton.
The initiative was inspired by other grim statistics:
• Each year, the American Red Cross responds to nearly 64,000 disasters nationwide, the vast majority of which are fires in the home.
• Seven people die each day in America due to house fires, agency estimates show, with children and the elderly the most common victims.
• Thirty-one percent of house fire victims never wake up after the fire starts.
Forty Fort Mayor Andy Tuzinski understands those statistics all too well.
Tuzinski, who also is a life member of the Forty Fort Fire Company, has dealt with three fatal blazes during his 32 years as a volunteer firefighter. In each case, he said, smoke detectors were either absent or inoperable.
“It really underscores how important it is not just to have smoke detectors in your home, but to make sure they are working,” Tuzinski said.
Many left to rust
The Red Cross and other agencies recommend that in battery-powered alarms, the batteries should be replaced yearly. And smoke alarms themselves should be replaced every 10 years, as they become less sensitive over time.
“I was surprised at how many places had smoke detectors that did not work or had none at all,” said off-duty Kingston firefighter Jason Johnson, who was part of a three-person team that installed 24 alarms around Bedford Street in Forty Fort.
Goldsworthy stood in the Kingston firehouse doorway rummaging through a pile of discarded alarms brought back by volunteers to be disposed. Manufacturers’ stickers showed some dating to the early- to mid-2000s, with batteries that expired a decade or more ago.
“Look, this battery is rusted in place,” Goldsworthy said after prying open one cracked and yellowed alarm like a giant plastic clam.
“People were very welcoming and appreciative of what we were doing, and happy we were there because many of them had smoke detectors that no longer worked,” said Times Leader Sports Editor Dennis Raymo, whose team visited more than 80 homes on West Dorrance Street in Kingston.
“It is great to be part of a project that has proven to save our friends’ and neighbors’ lives,” Raymo added.
Red Cross outreach did not end when the volunteers returned to the station on Saturday. Anyone interested in having the agency come out to install free smoke detectors can call the chapter at 570-823-7161. To learn more, or to volunteer or donate, visit https://www.redcross.org/sound-the-alarm.