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King Day of Service Projects Focus on Fire Prevention

We know a lot about home fires in the United States. Home fires occur too frequently—about 400,000 every year—and are deadly: Eight people die in a home fire every day. Most home fires (41 percent) start in the kitchen; another 18 percent are caused by space heaters.

We also know that the majority of home fires can be prevented by simply being aware of how we cook and heat our homes. Should a fire occur, we know that working smoke alarms and a family escape plan save lives.

On the King Day of Service, Red Cross and HOPE worldwide volunteers worked to arm their neighbors with the information they need to help prevent home fires. From Austin, Texas, to Worcester, Mass., volunteers provided fire safety tips to thousands of home owners, renters and apartment dwellers.

Canvassing Neighborhoods in Kennewick, Wash.

The Benton-Franklin Chapter of the American Red Cross in Kennewick, Wash., extended the King Day of Service to two weekends. To plan their routes, the Red Cross met with local fire departments to learn which neighborhoods had the highest fire risks. Volunteers concentrated on those streets, talking to people who were at home and leaving fire safety tips printed in both English and Spanish for those not at home.

Jeanne Jelke, executive director of the Benton-Franklin Chapter, talks about the outpouring of community support for the Red Cross fire safety program. “This disabled man a volunteer was speaking with lived on $600 a month,” Jelke says, “Even so, he reached into his pocket and donated $5 to the Red Cross.” That contribution is enough money to deliver fire prevention information to 75 households.

Local organizations, as well as individuals, supported the program. One evening Kennewick’s major junior ice hockey team, the Tri-City Americans, supported a Red Cross booth from which fire safety door hangers were distributed during the game. And one of the chapter’s community partners, the Columbia Basin Baptist Association, recognized Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to service by preparing breakfast in their mobile feeding kitchen for fire safety volunteers before the project began.

Canvassing Neighborhoods in Raleigh, N.C.

The Triangle Chapter of the American Red Cross in Raleigh, N.C., partnered with HOPE worldwide, a faith-based organization, during the King Day of Service. Roughly 250 volunteers got fire safety tips to more than 11,000 individuals in the Raleigh-Durham area. Neighborhoods at high risk for fire were selected for canvassing

Volunteers gathered in a Duke Medical Plaza parking lot, starting off the King Day of Service with inspiration and breakfast. The Red Cross disaster action team captain who brought his wife and three children was not alone—families crowded the site, enjoying hot chocolate and breakfast sandwiches and preparing to talk other residents in their community about fire safety.

Triangle Chapter regional Executive Director Barry Porter rallied the crowd to service. Porter reminded volunteers that fires kill more Americans than all natural disasters combined, and that the information they were providing during the King Day of Service would directly save lives.

To underscore the need for fire safety awareness, think about this fact: During Jan. 3 through Jan. 6, 29 adults and eight children in Raleigh were displaced by fires. When a fire occurs, whether it is at 2 p.m. in the afternoon or 2 a.m. in the morning, Red Cross disaster action team members respond, providing food, shelter, comfort and hope to meet the immediate needs of those affected.

Canvassing Neighborhoods in Houston

More than 80 volunteers met at a Southwest Houston park to begin the 2011 King Day of Service as a day on, rather than a day off.

It was a gray day, chilly and drizzly. But the mood of Greater Houston Area Chapter of the America Red Cross, HOPE worldwide and Houston Fire Department volunteers was sunny as they enjoyed breakfast served from a Red Cross emergency response vehicle.

Denise Bishop, senior director of communications for Greater Houston Area Chapter, says the partnership of the Red Cross, the Houston Fire Department and HOPE worldwide, made the difference. “The sum was greater than the parts,” Bishop said.

Volunteers, determined to serve and bolstered with stacks of fire safety door hangers printed in Spanish on one side and English on the other, fanned out to talk to residents about checking their smoke alarms and fire escape plans. Each group included some Spanish-speaking volunteers, so fire safety tips could be communicated to Houston’s high percentage of Spanish speaking residents.

Houston volunteers focused on apartment complexes where there have been fires in the past to which the Red Cross responded. More than 2,000 apartments received life-saving fire safety information that day.

Volunteers also checked smoke alarms. King Day of Service canvassers found several people who didn’t know how to check their smoke alarms, and taught them how to check the batteries and replace them if necessary. Working fire alarms are especially important—almost two-thirds of home fire deaths occur in homes with no smoking alarms or no working smoke alarms.