By Sue Toomey, American Red Cross
The American Red Cross responds to nearly 64,000 disasters each year, the majority of which are home fires. In 2014, the Red Cross launched a Home Fire Preparedness Campaign in an effort to reduce fire-related deaths and injuries in the United States. As part of the program, the Red Cross provides free smoke alarms, and the training to install them, to local community groups in neighborhoods with greater risks for home fires.
Red Cross volunteer Steve Knortz has been involved with the Home Fire Campaign in Territory 5 in Western Connecticut since its inception in 2014. When asked why he decided to get involved with the Red Cross, he recalled Hurricane Sandy and how so much of the State was devastated by the effects of the storm. Since he had a generator, he opened his house to neighbors. “No one really wants to accept help,” he said. “They want the problem fixed. So I decided to get involved to see if there was anything I could do for future disasters.”
Steve works to train local community groups to install smoke alarms provided by the Red Cross in homes that may not otherwise have them. One of those groups involved in the installations and education are the Lions Clubs of New Fairfield which held their second event to help seniors with installation of smoke alarms in November 2016.
The first senior safety day was held in 2015 spearheaded by Project Chairman Doug Stram of the New Fairfield Candlewood Lions Club. “It was one of those ideas that comes to you in the middle of the night that I could actually do something about,” he said. “Seniors shouldn’t be up on chairs changing batteries or installing smoke detectors. It’s just not a good idea.”
Stram indicated that they enlisted help of the local senior center and social services department to find those in need. The New Fairfield Lions Club heard of the project and offered their assistance as well and the project was dubbed “The Lions of New Fairfield Senior Safety Day.”
Knortz praised the Lions groups for their hard work and great organization skills. “It was great to have an organized list of appointments of those in need,” said Knortz. “It’s so much more productive than us doing a bunch of cold calls.”
After acquiring names and addresses of several seniors in the area, the Lions created a very organized way for each group of volunteers to provide the smoke alarms to the homes which needed them after receiving the appropriate training. In 2015, the Lions utilized some local students from youth groups RebelsCare and Boy Scout Troop 137 and Steve provided them with the necessary training.
“The kids were great,” said Steve. “They were students so they paid great attention to the training and did exactly what they were told to do.” He also indicated that he felt the seniors really enjoyed the youthful energy in their homes.
Stram is working to expand the focus of their efforts in 2017 to include veterans and the disabled. Through the success of the New Fairfield Candlewood Lions Club initiative, other local Lions groups have expressed an interest in getting involved with the program in their own communities with the assistance of the Red Cross and he is working to share information on the program with them. “Imagine what we could accomplish if all Lions Clubs across the country were involved in this program?” He asked.
Since the Red Cross relies heavily on local organizations to locate recipients and set up appointments for the installations, there is a great need in many communities for other organizations to get involved. If your organization would like more information on how to get involved in this type of program in your community, please visit http://www.redcross.org/local/connecticut/home-fire-safety/community-partners