Home fires cause more deaths each year than any other disaster and affect more people than floods, tornados, and hurricanes combined. In fact, the majority of 70,000 disasters the Red Cross responds to each year are home fires.
“Seven times a day someone in this country dies in a home fire, and we have witnessed that tragedy right here in our community,” said Mary Nathan, Disaster Program Manager for American Red Cross of Western Massachusetts. “Smoke alarms save lives.”
Annually, home fires cause 2,500 deaths and $7 billion in property damage in Massachusetts, the problem is more acute during winter months with the increased use of wood and pellet stoves, wood fireplaces and generators during storms.
Through its nationwide Home Fire Campaign program of door-to-door smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector installation, the Red Cross wants to reduce deaths and injuries from home fires by as much as 25 percent over the next five years. To accomplish this goal, the Red Cross will install more than 1 million smoke alarms around the country, present school-based programs on fire safety and launch a campaign to encourage people to check existing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
The local program was launched at the Raymond M. Sullivan Safety Complex in Springfield with the help of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, Springfield Fire Marshall David Rivera, and Andrea Luppi from Columbia Gas of Massachusetts.
The Home Fire Campaign program was developed to be easy and convenient for homeowners and uses a team approach to expedite the installation and education process. During installation, a member of the Springfield Fire Department, a Red Cross volunteer, and a volunteer from Columbia Gas of Massachusetts work together to place and install the safety equipment in a home and educate the residents about fire safety and escape routes.
One of those homes belonged to retired military and Vietnam Veteran Robert McLaughlin and his dog Taffy. A 36-year resident of Springfield, McLaughlin learned about the program through a doorknob flyer from the Red Cross.
McLaughlin has smoke detectors, but they’re old and he knows the importance of new equipment, especially in a mobile home park. “A lot of people don’t realize that (mobile home) units go up so fast,” said McLaughlin. “(The) place just melts.”
McLaughlin appreciated the help and would recommend the program to his neighbors. “It’s money well spent (by the Red Cross). If one person gets out (safely) it’s worth it.”
The door flyer was the first McLaughlin heard of the program, but it’s not his first experience with the Red Cross.
During his time in Vietnam, he got to know the Red Cross through the Donut Dollies, women who worked to entertain and bring some comfort to soldiers through mess hall card games and bingo. McLaughlin admired the women and their willingness to suffer the hardship of war to support the troops.
Residents like McLaughlin who wish to participate in the program should meet three criteria:
• Own their home
• Live in a home built prior to 1975
• Have current alarms that are at least 10 years old or non-existent.