More than most, Alex Aguirre knows what it’s like to have your family’s house burn down. It happened to his parents, his 9-months-pregnant sister and his niece in early February.
The fire in their home in Crawford, just outside Atlanta, had started at 6 a.m. in an electrical box. Fortunately his mother had been awake and noticed flames. There were no smoke alarms, only an old-fashioned heat detector. Aguirre’s mother got everybody out of the house – although their two dogs did not make it.
With immediate Red Cross assistance, the family was able to get clothes and all the basics, from toothpaste to deodorant. And they could start rebuilding their lives.
Now, three months later, Aguirre was a first-time Red Cross volunteer in a key role – smoke alarm installer – as Sound the Alarm kicked off in the Atlanta area in an effort to reduce home fire-related tragedies.
He was far from alone. At 14 events across Georgia, from Tifton in the southwest to Thunderbolt near Savannah to Summerville in the northwest, more than 880 red-shirted volunteers rallied to install more than 3,000 free smoke alarms from late April to early May. The effort was nationwide, with a goal of 100,000 smoke alarms in 100 cities.
“When you think that seven people die every day in home fires and you have less than two minutes to get out of your house, what you’re doing is really important,” Metro Atlanta Executive Director Terri Badour told Aguirre and around 100 others gathered at DeKalb County Fire Rescue Station 26 in the south part of the county.
DeKalb Fire Chief Darnell Fullum, whose department along with many others are vital partners, agreed with Badour. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he told the Red Crossers. “Fifty percent of all fire deaths will occur between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., when most people are in bed. That’s why it’s so critical what you’re doing today.”
Since its Home Fire Campaign started in 2014, the Red Cross has documented 580 lives saved as a result of installing more than 1.6 million free smoke alarms. That includes 14 Georgians.
Just recently, in Albany, volunteer Tom Wilson had responded to a home fire where a mother and her adult daughter lived. He knew the house – he had installed smoke alarms there. The mother told him, “Those alarms you installed worked. They saved our lives!”
In DeKalb County in May, the group had organized into teams of three that were fanning out into the neighborhoods. Aguirre’s team found what they were looking for almost right away – a house that needed three smoke alarms. As he went to work, team member Lynnette Cuff talked to homeowner Telita Todd about the importance of home escape plans, and volunteer Glenda Jordan documented the visit.
Then they moved next door and put in two more alarms in the apartment where Todd’s mother lived. Todd was grateful. “It’s good,” she said. “It’s life-saving.”
Aguirre, a Customer Care Center licensed representative for State Farm – an official partner of the Sound the Alarm campaign in Georgia - was happy he had come. He didn’t want Todd or anybody else to lose everything, like his family did.
Aguirre said he would be volunteering for the Red Cross again. “It’s rewarding,” he said of installing smoke alarms. “They can potentially avoid what my family went through. To start from nothing is hard.”
If preventing fire-related deaths, or helping those who’ve had home fires sounds rewarding to you, go to www.redcross.org to become a Red Cross volunteer or make a financial contribution.