Each month, volunteers from the American Red Cross of the Central Coast spend a day in a local neighborhood, supporting the national organization's "Home Fire Campaign." In January, while inspecting homes in Seaside, California, the volunteers saw first-hand the lifesaving value of their efforts.
That's because one of the 10 four-person teams assembled to do the home visits on January 16 took the extra time to ensure that an elderly woman's mobile home was fire-safe.
"She had the required smoke detectors, and they were all in good working order," says Camilla Boolootian, a Red Cross development officer who served as a volunteer that day. "But the resident also mentioned that her smoke detectors, which in her case also detected the presence of carbon monoxide, regularly sounded an alarm when she was cooking."
The woman's comment set off an alarm of sorts for Boolootian, her Red Cross teammates, and the members of the Seaside Fire Department who were the Red Cross's partners that day.
Those present decided it would be prudent to test the air around the resident's stove; sure enough, the air sample indicated that her stove was leaking gas.
PG&E was quickly called, and within 15 minutes the utility company had a crew on site to turn off the resident's gas, fix the gas leak, and restore her service.
"For me and the many Red Cross volunteers that day, the incident underscored the importance of these home inspections," Boolootian says. "This particular visit reminded all of us that the Red Cross's Home Fire Campaign does save lives."
Announced in October 2014 by American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern, the organization launched the Home Fire Campaign with a goal of reducing deaths and injuries from home fires by as much as 25 percent over the following five years.
Conducted in partnership with local fire-prevention agencies, the campaign seeks to increase the use of smoke alarms in neighborhoods with higher numbers of home fires and to encourage all Americans to develop and practice fire-escape plans.
Brian Dempsey, chief of the Seaside Fire Department, says the Red Cross campaign came along at a perfect time for his agency. "When it was launched a little more than a year ago, our department had just secured a $23,000 federal fire-prevention grant that enabled us to purchase 1,100 smoke detectors, batteries, and other materials for just the sort of door-to-door campaign the Red Cross program envisioned."
"We are a small department, so having the Red Cross volunteers available to help us staff this effort has made a huge difference in the success of our outreach efforts," adds Dempsey, who also serves on the Red Cross Central Coast Chapter's Board of Directors. "The launch of their Home Fire Campaign could not have been timed any more perfectly for the residents of the City of Seaside."
The Red Cross fire prevention campaign came on the heels of a national survey that indicated that many Americans have a false sense of security about surviving a fire. Conducted for the organization, the survey indicates that people mistakenly believe they have more time than they really do to escape a burning home.
Fire experts agree that people may have as little as two minutes to escape a burning home before it’s too late to get out.
The Red Cross responds to nearly 70,000 disasters each year in the United States – and the vast majority of these are home fires.
Preview image caption: Seaside Fire Chief Brian Dempsey says the Red Cross fire-prevention campaign perfectly complements the department's own efforts.
Main image caption: Steve Purcell, Sandy Williamson (center) and Camilla Boolootian were among dozens of Central Coast Red Cross volunteers doing home inspections in Seaside in January.