Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 22, 2013

Firefighters distribute smoke detectors door by door

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Residents of a Garfield Township neighborhood are finding a surprise at their front doors: firefighters going house-to-house checking, distributing, and installing smoke detectors.

The past two years Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department officials offered to check and install residential smoke detectors, but residents had to ask for the service. This year department personnel launched a pilot program of neighborhood door-to-door sweeps to reach the more vulnerable segments of the community that may have been missed during previous efforts.

“A lot of times we were going into neighborhoods with $300,000 and $400,000 houses and they wanted free smoke alarms,” said Brian Belcher, Metro Fire’s assistant chief and fire marshal. “We’ll go out and check anybody ... but the intent of the free alarms and the free batteries is for those who don’t have the means, or don’t have the ability, to check or replace them.”

Melanie Martin initially thought the people in blue uniforms headed up her drive were from the gas company. Then she began to wonder why firefighters knocked on her door. Then she met Meredith Hawes, fire and life safety educator for Metro Fire, who explained they were there to check her smoke detectors and would replace or install new detectors, if needed.

Martin’s home off Barlow Street had up-to-date, working smoke detectors, an exception in a neighborhood of mobile and manufactured homes. She still appreciated the visit.

“It’s great for older people that don’t think about it,” Martin said. “But when you live in a mobile home you’re a little more aware of it because mobiles go up fast.”

A fire in the area last year was among the reasons Metro Fire officials targeted the neighborhood, Hawes said. Residents were aware of the fire and were more inviting to firefighters.

Metro Fire’s project is dubbed the Safe Neighborhood Program; the goal is to ensure every home in Garfield, East Bay, and Acme townships has two working smoke detectors.

Metro’s own data showed no working smoke detectors in almost 40 percent of residential fires in the area.

“People take them for granted. They don’t check them or replace them,” Belcher said. “People get the idea that it will never happen in our home. We want to raise awareness and reduce the risk of injury and death due to fire.”

Marks remain on the walls of Sarah Carpenter’s mobile home where previous residents removed smoke detectors. Carpenter recently moved into the home and said smoke detectors were on her to-do list when firefighters came knocking.

“I lived in Grand Rapids, I lived in Cedar Springs, and they never did anything like this,” Carpenter said. “I lived in Cedar Springs and I hate to tell you how many trailers were lost to fire. This is great, really great.”

Firefighters replaced two smoke detectors in the house where Brianna Kalush lives with her grandmother. Batteries in the detectors were fresh, but the detectors were more than a dozen years old.

Smoke detectors, both battery operated and those hard-wired into the house, should be replaced every 10 years, Belcher said.

“I guess it’s good they stopped by,” Kalush said. “It’s pretty cool.”

Metro Fire installs detectors with 10-year batteries that can’t be replaced. The detectors, 2,500 of them, come from the Garfield Township Home Depot store whose employee’s earned the donation by winning a contest.

Metro Fire completed about 10 sweeps thus far this year. They’ve distributed about 50 detectors to date, and place a notice on doors when no one is home that invites residents to call about free detectors. Those notices resulted in very few call-backs, but Belcher said he hopes response will improve as the program expands.