Planning can sometimes take longer than expected. But when Marty Kanengiser sat down with some of the community leaders of New Rochelle to talk about the American Red Cross program Sound the Alarm, he never imagined it would take more than three years to make those plans a reality.
Marty — a home fire campaign leader with American Red Cross-Greater New York — joined hundreds of other volunteers on a warm May afternoon in New Rochelle, installing smoke alarms in dozens of homes, all with the hopes of saving lives if tragedy were to ever strike.
But why three years? You may only need one guess.
“I had a meeting with the New Rochelle town board, the fire chief and the police chief to talk about this program,” he said. “During that meeting, people were going in and out, and I didn’t quite make out what was going on. Then, driving home, I turned on the radio and heard that New Rochelle was the epicenter of Covid-19 in the country.”
It was March 15, 2020. A lawyer from New Rochelle was one of the first documented cases of Covid infection in New York. Within weeks, not only was all of the state shut down, but so was most of the country.
Sound the Alarm was cancelled in New Rochelle, of course. But Marty never forgot the enthusiasm he received from city leaders. So, when it was finally safe to return, Marty did. And brought as many volunteers with him as he could.
Since starting the Home Fire Campaign in 2014, the American Red Cross has installed 2.6 million smoke alarms in more than 1 million homes, saving more than 1,700 lives. The New Rochelle teams consisted of four or five people armed with plenty of free smoke alarms, plenty of literature to help families prepare for a fire, and making sure each home has developed a plan that will get each and every person out safely during a blaze itself.
Marty’s team included not only Greenwich, Connecticut, volunteers Janine Kennedy and Ted Berenblum, but also Stephanie Dunn Ashley, chief executive of American Red Cross-Metro New York North. And she wasn’t just there to watch. Stephanie flexed her muscles a bit, showing how she can fully install a new smoke detector in less than 60 seconds.
One of the homes Marty’s team visited belonged to Queenie McShaw. A retired day care owner, Queenie has nothing but love for the American Red Cross, after the organization was first on the scene to help her brother during a devastating fire that destroyed his home some years ago. She donates every year, and now has an even safer home with working smoke detectors in every bedroom.
A smoke detector’s alarm can reach as high as 120 decibels, but what if you can’t hear it? That’s where a bed shaker comes in — something Marty’s team installed for an older couple who don’t sleep with hearing aids in.
The Lifetone-manufactured device works with existing smoke alarms in the house. When it hears an alarm, it triggers its own sound — so loud, it’s like having a lawnmower started right next to you.
A flashing red screen screams “Fire!” and a small device underneath the mattress literally shakes anyone in bed awake.
And all of this was free for anyone who needed them — installed by a team of American Red Cross volunteers, who not only want to be there on someone’s day of need — but to be there even before they’re needed.
“We got to help a lot of people today,” Marty said, once it was time to pack up. “But our job is never done. We’ll be back, and we’ll keep making a difference.”
Sound the Alarm is a year-round program sponsored by the American Red Cross. To learn more visit www.soundthealarm.org/gny
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