In an effort to reduce fatalities in home fires, volunteers for the American Red Cross of Central California canvassed neighborhoods in central Fresno on Saturday, installing 281 free smoke alarms and educating residents on fire safety.
The event, which was organized by the Red Cross and Fresno Fire Department, ran from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and celebrated the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
“The memory of Dr. King, his commitment to volunteerism and, really, activating people to really do something is important,” said Barry Falke, executive director of the American Red Cross of the Central Valley. “I think what the Red Cross is doing today, in terms of making people safe, is really in the spirit of Dr. King and the spirit of service.”
The 130 volunteers began their day at the Boys & Girls Club off Belmont and Augusta avenues in central Fresno. Volunteers were split up into morning and afternoon groups and broken up into teams, which then canvassed neighborhoods off of Belmont Avenue, near Yokomi and Rowell elementary schools.
“Each team has an installer, a reporter and an educator,” Falke said. “The installer is the one responsible, of course, for installing the smoke alarms.
“The educator I think, in many ways, has the most important role,” he said. “The educator really educates the families on how to create an evacuation plan for their house, will give each family a grid where they can literally trace their house, where the windows are and doors are, and educate families on how important it is to be prepared for a home fire.”
Each team’s reporter was responsible for documenting what work was done at each house by that team. “They’ll kind of ask them some questions, like demographic questions, and a little bit of information on how many smoke alarms were actually installed and keep track of that,” Falke said.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. employee and Red Cross volunteer Aharon Davoyan worked as an educator for a team in the morning group. Davoyan, who has volunteered for the Red Cross on several past events, was pleased to be volunteering the weekend before the MLK Day of Service.
“The Day of Service is basically an opportunity for you to donate time, take time to appreciate what’s been provided to us and give back,” Davoyan said. “It’s an opportunity for us to provide something they might be missing that could be the difference between life and death.”
Last year, Fresno Fire Department responded to around 300 working structure fires.
“One of the main reasons we’re doing this,” said Fresno Fire spokesman Hector Vasquez, “is the city of Fresno had eight fatalities in fires last year.”
In October 2014, the Red Cross began its national Home Fire campaign. The agency hopes to reduce fatalities in house fires by 25 percent over the next five years. Nationally, the Red Cross responds to more than 70,000 disasters each year. The majority of those are house fires.
Vasquez said a working smoke alarm is the best defense a family has against a home fire. “I consider it almost like a warning shot,” he said. “It’s going to give you the best chance for you to evacuate your house and get your family out if there’s a fire.”
The Red Cross and the Fresno Fire Department stressed the importance of having an escape plan for your home in case of a fire.
“The national statistics say that you really have about two minutes, from the time a fire starts in your house, to get your family out and be safe,” Falke said.
Vasquez suggested parents talk to their children about what to do in case of a fire, and designate a space for the family to meet in an emergency.
“With us having eight fatalities last year, that’s a huge amount of loss,” Vasquez said. “Even if we save one life, then it was all worth it.”