Improving safety, free of charge

Smoke alarms in homes can save lives — and that is why Shelton’s fire departments are teaming with the American Red Cross to put that necessary protection in all local residences.

Local fire officials and emergency personnel are urging all residents who do not have smoke alarms to call the Red Cross, which is installing the devices free of charge, while also distributing some important fire safety instructions and escape plans.

“With the makeup of homes today, within two minutes of a fire starting, homes can become impossible to breath in and move around,” said Michael Maglione, director of the city’s office of emergency management. “[The smoke alarm] will give you the earliest warning besides you actually seeing the fire.”

This is the second year that the city has teamed with the Red Cross for free smoke alarm installations. Last year, the Red Cross donated the smoke alarms, then the city’s fire departments and emergency management personnel chose a section of the city and went door- to-door installing the alarms where needed.

“Now, the Red Cross will handle the installation,” said Maglione. “Just call the number, set up an appointment and a Red Cross volunteer will come out, put the alarms in the proper locations in house. The city gets record of where they are placed.”

Maglione said the smoke alarms come with 10-year batteries, and the Red Cross volunteers will install as many alarms as needed to make the home secure in case of a fire.

“We like to see [the smoke alarms] where they are needed most — in homes where there are children or the elderly, the groups most susceptible to the effects of smoke and fire,” said Maglione.

Every day, the American Red Cross states that seven people are killed and another 36 people suffer injuries as a result of home fires. Annually, the Red Cross responds to nearly 64,000 disasters — the vast majority of which are home fires.

For survivors who may have lost everything, Maglione said a Red Cross volunteer is often among the first one on the scene — offering emotional support, helping families find a place to stay and assisting with recovery.

Fire experts agree that people may have as little as two minutes to escape a burning home before it is too late, said Maglione, and local fire officials urge that every household create a fire escape plan and practice it until everyone can escape in less than two minutes.

Escape plans should include at least two ways to escape from every room. Also, select a meeting spot at a safe distance where family members can unite; and then discuss the plan with everyone in the household and practice at least twice a year.

“Working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in a home fire in half and should be tested once a month,” said Maglione. “Change the batteries twice a year in conjunction with daylight saving time if your model requires it. Place smoke alarms on every level of your home, including inside and outside of the bedrooms. Home fires represent a significant threat to our communities as most occur in homes that lack proper functioning smoke alarms.”

Maglione said cities, such as Bridgeport and New Haven, have taken full advantage of the American Red Cross program. Last year, in New Haven, he said the Red Cross installed 1,100 detectors in one day.

“All the individuals getting the smoke alarms also get a packet of information, and they can put together their own fire escape plan,” said Maglione. “They receive a home fire safety checklist, and there is information about creating an emergency supply kit. The Red Cross covers everything.”

Maglione — who has served as fire chief in Bridgeport, then Waterbury, before assuming the emergency management director role in Shelton — said local fire officials know there are homes in the city with no smoke alarms or aging units that need replacement.

“This is a chance to upgrade to a unit that will last 10 years. If you have a unit that is 10 years old, it is time to get rid of it, and this is a perfect chance to do that,” said Maglione, adding that in his past positions, he’s found some 50% of fires were in homes with no smoke alarms.

“With this program, there is no reason why every residence in the city of Shelton should not have smoke detectors,” said Maglione. “All people have to do is call.”

To schedule an appointment for installation of a free smoke alarm, call 877-287-3327.