It was a regular day, in a regular neighborhood, in a regular house, the residence of a fairly typical elderly man, someone’s father, uncle, or grandfather, perhaps.
And it might have been just a regular, polite exchange of pleasantries and nothing more, if not for that high-pitched chirping sound that had been disrupting the man every minute or so for almost a year. “It had been chirping for a year and he didn’t know what it was,” American Red Cross volunteer Bob Zwier recalled.
It was the gentleman’s smoke alarm, crying for new batteries, using its last bit of juice to send out a distress signal. It wouldn’t have likely worked at all for much longer.
“Twenty-five percent of homes in the United States don’t have smoke alarms, or don’t have working smoke alarms, and each year 120 people die in Ohio from house fires,” said Bob, a member of a Red Cross team that organizes free smoke alarm installations for communities throughout the region.
“I was definitely surprised at the number of homes that don’t have smoke alarms, or don’t have working smoke alarms. It’s a lot of young families, or maybe low-income families,” Bob said. “But it’s also a lot of older people who aren’t in the physical condition or don’t have the wherewithal to test the alarm or change the batteries. For those folks the Red Cross program can really be a lifesaver. At one house I did an installation for the alarm had been chirping and they didn’t even know.”
The Red Cross works closely with local fire departments and partners with local businesses to go in groups door-to-door in identified communities – donning the prominent fluorescent Red Cross vests, as well as badges and hats and shirts, with Red Cross vehicles and local fire trucks often nearby – to test, install and maintain smoke alarms for residents completely free of charge.
“It doesn’t cost a thing,” Bob confirmed. “It’s courtesy of the Red Cross and the wonderful Red Cross donors.”
After receiving training, volunteers install smoke alarms, provide fire safety education, test smoke alarm units, and replace batteries when necessary.
Bob has been involved with at least 25 Red Cross smoke alarm installation events, but none bigger than the Saturday, May 5th Sound the Alarm National Signature Event in the Huber Ridge neighborhood of Westerville. Between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., volunteers and partners expect to visit 1200 homes and install 300 alarms, making over 100 homes safer.
“There’s some retired volunteers like me,” said Bob who began volunteering about four years ago to fill the time. “But there’s an awful lot of people who are still active in their careers, too, and just do this as a weekend gig, and people who bring their family along and their older children.”
Bob has worn a lot of different hats as a Red Cross volunteer, transporting blood, and being a disaster services volunteer who provides immediate assistance to survivors of home fires and other disasters. But it’s with the smoke alarm installation program that he’s really found his niche.
“I think everyone who has been involved as long as I have would feel that this program is their baby. But it’s interesting to see all the new faces that have gotten involved, and it’s good to get some fresh ideas and new energy,” Bob said. “I’ve been really proud of the [Ohio] Buckeye [Region] and how much we’ve been able to accomplish working with the local fire departments.”
And there’s still plenty to be done. In addition to larger installation events, the local Red Cross also will respond to any requests to install a new smoke alarm or test one that may not be working properly.
“We’d be happy to do that,” Bob said. “People can contact their local Red Cross, and a lot of local fire departments will test home alarms, too. And if the alarm is more than five years old or needs replaced, we’ll replace it.”
“A lot of deaths from home fires are preventable,” he said. “It just keeps me going. I want to reach out to as many people as I can to make sure they’re safe.”
Would you like to help make sure the communities in your area are safe? The American Red Cross is a volunteer-driven organization, and our volunteers make a difference every day. Like Bob, you can be a part of a team that installs smoke alarms and provides fire safety education in your community. To find out more, visit Sound the Alarm.