By GUISEPPE SABELLA
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A handful of organizations will install thousands of free smoke alarms throughout West Virginia in the coming months.
State Fire Marshal Ken Tyree recently announced his campaign against an “unacceptable numbers of fire fatalities,” which includes at least 37 statewide deaths this year.
His office will combat deaths and injuries with “Get Alarmed West Virginia,” an initiative that will run in conjunction with efforts by the American Red Cross and other organizations.
The agencies hope to install a total of more than 3,500 alarms throughout the state during the campaigns, said Erica Mani, regional chief executive officer for the American Red Cross.
Everyone is qualified to receive free smoke alarms, Tyree said in an email. Volunteers will install alarms throughout the state between Sept. 9 and Oct. 14.
The American Red Cross — through its “Sound the Alarm, Save a Life” campaign — is recruiting volunteers in 100 cities to help install 100,000 alarms between Sept. 23 and Oct. 15.
Those interested in volunteering for Get Alarmed West Virginia can call 304-558-2191. Sign-ups also are available online at surveymonkey.com/r/x5knhzn.
Tyree said his office is asking volunteers to sign up by Aug. 16. Teams of three will install alarms during the campaign.
The American Red Cross is asking volunteers to sign up at redcross.org/sound-the-alarm. The nonprofit organization will focus on Charleston and Beckley, Mani said.
“This isn’t really just about installing smoke alarms,” she said. “This is about making homes safer and educating people about escaping a burning home.”
Requests for the free alarms can be made by visiting redcross.org/local/west-virginia/home-fire-safety, or by calling 1-844-216-8286.
Mani said both agencies will provide smoke alarms and safety information during the installations.
According to the Office of the State Fire Marshal, fires killed 44 people in 2014. That number dropped slightly the following year, and it spiked to 58 last year.
Especially vulnerable people include children, the elderly and those with a disability, according to Tyree’s email.
“At age 65, people are twice as likely to be killed or injured by fires compared to the population at large, especially those that live alone,” he wrote.
His office also said West Virginians are more than three times more likely to die in a fire than residents of other states, citing statistics from the U.S. Fire Administration.
Mani said the average home requires three smoke alarms for optimum safety, though the number depends on the size and layout of each home.
Along with normal alarms, her agency also provides “bed shakers.” The specialized alarms are meant for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Mani was unsure how much the upcoming initiative would cost in total. She said her organization must account for the cost of smoke alarms, batteries, educational materials, training and staffing.
However, she said it costs about $15 for one dual-sensor smoke alarm, which includes batteries that last up to 10 years. The projects are funded by donations and fundraisers.
The Home Fire Campaign, started by the American Red Cross in 2014, has documented a dozen incidents in which its smoke alarms saved a life in West Virginia, Mani said.
A woman’s home caught fire in Beckley just two months after volunteers installed alarms in the house. An alarm woke the woman up, Mani said, and the home suffered only minor damages.
Mani said people generally have about two minutes from the start of a fire to safely escape the burning home. Photo albums or family heirlooms often are lost in the rush.
“She actually had enough time to grab her fire extinguisher, and the fire was small enough that she just put it out herself,” Mani said.
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