In commemoration of 2016's Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, the Greater Salt Lake Area Chapter of the American Red Cross assembled 38 local volunteers at West Valley Fire Station No. 73 to help fellow Red Cross volunteers across the country set a world record for most smoke alarm installations in one day. This is part of a national plan the Red Cross devised with fire authorities and emergency planners in hundreds of cities. By installing free smoke alarms and by sharing fire-safety information with local residents, the goal is to reduce U.S. fire deaths by 25 percent. That's almost 900 people a year.
When most of us think of Red Cross volunteers responding to disasters, we conjure images of large communities uprooted by earthquakes, flash floods, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and tsunamis. That's not an unreasonable assumption. In just the first month of 2016, there were already 19 major-disaster responses underway throughout almost a third of the United States.
What most don't realize, however, is that local home fires are the biggest disaster threats. The American Red Cross website says that it responds to disasters every eight minutes and that nearly all of them are home fires.
During the period 2009-2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 357,000 home fires per year, according to the National Fire Protection Association. These blazes resulted in an average of 2,470 civilian deaths, 12,890 civilian injuries and $6.9 billion in property damage.
In fact, Red Cross volunteers spend more time and resources providing food, clothing, emotional and other humanitarian assistance to families displaced by home fire damage than anything else.
According to West Valley Fire Marshall Joe White, "What a lot of people don't realize is that as a person goes to sleep, their sense of smell goes to sleep, as well. And so, smoke detectors are extremely important, especially at night, because that's when our defenses are down the most."
White then told the volunteers, "The program that you guys are doing today is just invaluable."
So, exactly who are the "you guys" that White was talking to? On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, they were retirees, students and employees from area businesses such as State Farm Insurance, FedEx and Rocky Mountain Power, who came forward to learn about home fire safety and how to teach it to others. In homes that didn't have smoke alarms, or where alarms were more than 10 years old, volunteers installed free new ones.
They explained to residents the critical importance of getting out from a burning house in under two minutes and how to map the quickest exits. They also went over the most common causes of home fires and how to prevent them.
To find out how to donate and/or volunteer, contact:
Stan Rosenzweig is a retired Connecticut businessman who has spent the last 10 years as a Red Cross disaster response volunteer. He has traveled halfway around the world and in numerous states to respond to wildfires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, a tsunami and an earthquake. He mentors newer volunteers and is a board member at the Greater Salt Lake Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.