Home Fire Preparedness Campaign comes to Waushara County

According to the American Red Cross (ARC), seven times a day someone dies from a home fire in the United States, every 40 minutes an injury from a fire is sustained, and nearly 1,000 times a day fire departments across the country are called to house fire.

Understanding the importance of safety preparedness, the ARC kicked off the multi-year Home Fire Preparedness Campaign (HFPC) Smoke Alarm Installation Event in October 2015.

The goal for the nationwide five-year initiative is to reduce the number of fire deaths and injuries in the United States by 25 percent; increase home fire responses by 4 percent every year for five years; and to provide even more direct client assistance following a home fire.

Since the campaign began a year ago, the ARC reported 26 lives have been saved due to the installation of smoke alarms. The ARC has also found 4 percent of homes without smoke alarms represent nearly 40 percent of the home fires, and that “working smoke alarms can double someone’s chance of surviving a fire.”

The national organization hopes to install 500,000 smoke alarms each year, with Wisconsin planning to install a total of 2,500 functioning smoke alarms during the fiscal year 2016, which ends June 30.

“The purpose of the HFPC is to help those communities most at risk of home fires,” said ARC Community Volunteer Leader Vicki Jenks, Wild Rose. “This is a multi-year campaign which will involve tremendous collaboration, coordination, and hard work.”

The local ARC Northeast Chapter kicked off their HFPC Campaign in Kaukauna in November 2015, and plans to install functioning smoke alarms in Waushara, Green Lake, Marquette, and Waupaca Counties in the next few months.

Jenks said depending on financial support and after the chapter purchases all the necessary supplies, coordinates with local fire departments, obtains volunteers, and organizes the staff, the chapter will begin the installation process. Jenks hopes to begin sometime in November and continue on a monthly basis.  

By assembling a coalition of volunteers in local communities utilizing fire departments, churches, businesses, schools, after school programs, public health departments, social services agencies, neighborhood leaders, the ARC will be able to help plan and carry out the pre-event canvassing and smoke alarm installations.

To begin informing the public of the HFPC Smoke Alarm Installations, ARC volunteers “pre-canvass” the selected neighborhoods to inform and education people of the free service. The ARC believes by providing advanced notification more residents will be willing to take part in the service.

“Red Cross chapters use a mapping tool that identifies where the greatest concentration of fires have occurred,” explained Jenks. “This system pinpoints high-need areas by analyzing data on local fire incidents, income levels, and information from Client Assistance Services. Red Cross chapters and partners can then strategically focus on specific ‘at risk’ communities.”

The three person installation teams include the documenter, installer, and safety educator. The installation process takes about 20-30 minutes per home with the teams focused on three goals: testing and (as needed) installing smoke alarms; educating the resident on fire safety and safety from other types of locally relevant disasters; and documenting resident information, including the services provided.

During the installation process, the smoke alarm installers test each smoke alarm in the presence of the resident, replace batteries in alarms when needed, ensure that the homes have at least one working smoke alarm on each level, install smoke alarms, and test new alarms in the resident’s presence after installation is complete.

The reporter’s duties are to ensure the correct documentation is completed for each home as well as keep track of supplies, report program metrics, and ensure the homeowner completes the required documentation.

The safety educator provides information to the residents regarding the smoke alarms maintenance, how to test their alarms, how to use the hush button feature to silence false alarms, inform residents on how to replace alarms every 10 years, and provide the manufacturer’s smoke alarm maintenance and operation instructions.

The safety educator also helps residents make a fire escape plan and make sure they understand to “Get Out and Stay Out” and then call 911 from an outside meeting location; review a home fire safety checklist with the residents; review preparedness and safety information for one additional hazard chosen by the local coalition; and help residents plan on how to stay safe and reconnect with their loved ones when disasters occur.

The local ARC has found the majority of house fires occur in the winter months, January-March with the Disaster Action Team (DAT) seeing fires due to electrical issues, unclean chimneys, kitchen fires, and arson.

To help reduce the number of fire deaths per year, Jenks advises local residents to first have a functioning smoke alarm on every level of the home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. “The Red Cross installed smoke alarms have 10 year Lithium batteries,” said Jenks. “The new Wisconsin fire code requires 10 year Lithium battery smoke alarms or the hard-wired alarms. Hard-wired alarm batteries last between 7-10 years and need to be checked during that time frame.”

The second tip Jenks is to develop an escape plan and practice it. “Include two ways to get out of every room and consider escape ladders for sleeping areas or homes on the second floor or above,” she said. “Pick a place outside for everyone to meet and make sure everyone knows where it is. Practice that home fire drill until everyone in the household can do it in less than two minutes.”

The damage from United States home fires is more than the entire annual sales of many Fortune 500 companies according to the ARC. “For the past 20 years these numbers have been relatively stagnant. By mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors, the American Red Cross and coalition partners will attack that stagnation.”

For those interested in taking part in the local Home Fire Preparedness Campaign Smoke Alarm Installation, please contact American Red Cross Northeast Wisconsin Disaster Program Specialist Bill Mayer at 920-371-9014, 920-227-4281, or robert.mayer@redcross.org, or ARC Community Volunteer Leader Vicki Jenks at 920-622-3152 or vickipjenks@gmail.com.

For those interested in donating to the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign, please send checks payable to the American Red Cross (noting HFPC/HEROES) to ARC, 515 S. Washburn St., Suite 201, Oshkosh, WI 54904, visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS, or text “REDCROSS” to 90999 to make a $10 donation.