Groups work to get smoke detectors into homes

2014-05-11T00:00:00Z 2014-05-11T23:35:05Z Groups work to get smoke detectors into homesJoyce Russell, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222

Smoke detectors save lives. Just ask any firefighter.

But according to a National Fire Protection Association study released last month, there are nearly 5 million households across the country without the early warning devices.

The NFPA's "Smoke Alarms in U.S. Home Fires" report, which looked at fire statistics from 2007 to 2011, found three out of five home fire deaths resulted from fires in properties without working smoke alarms.

Just a year ago, a Chicago Heights couple died in their home after a fire broke out in the middle of the night. There were smoke detectors in the home, but they weren't working, officials said.

Nine days later, a Hobart man was killed in an early morning fire in his home. Firefighters didn't find any smoke detectors in his home.

Agencies, particularly local fire departments throughout the area, work to get smoke detectors into homes, all looking to lower the death rate from residential fires.

Nearly seven years ago, a 6-year-old Portage girl suffered severe burns when her home went up in flames.

The mobile home didn't have a working smoke detector.

Within a month, members of the Portage Fire Department began going door-to-door to distribute smoke detectors, concentrating in areas they believed to be the most in need.

Portage has maintained that program, Assistant Chief Dan Kodicek said.

Each Portage firetruck or ambulance carries batteries and smoke detectors, he said. When there is a call, firefighters, when time permits, will replace batteries in smoke detectors or even install smoke detectors in owner-occupied homes.

This summer, they will have a blitz in a yet unspecified neighborhood, going door to door, checking for operating smoke detectors. Porter Regional Hospital has donated $500 toward the effort, Kodicek said, adding the department also uses its gift fund to purchase smoke detectors and batteries.

The American Red Cross is one of the agencies often called upon after fire has struck a family, Executive Director Gordon Johnson said.

Last year they adopted the Team Fire Stoppers program and with the help of a grant from the ArcelorMittal Foundation sends volunteers out to targeted neighborhoods. The volunteers, Johnson said, do a fire inspection, provide residents with an escape plan kit and provide a kitchen fire extinguisher, carbon monoxide detector, a couple of smoke detectors, fresh batteries and a surge protector.

The blitzes occurred in Gary, East Chicago and Hammond this past year, Johnson said. In each case, the city, its fire department and other agencies teamed to help with the program.

Hammond Fire Department Inspector Mike Opinker said his department doesn't have the money to blitz neighborhoods, but does give away about 20 each year as raffle prizes during fire prevention open houses.

Lake Station Fire Department does the same, said Chief Robert James, giving away 55 smoke detectors last year during visits to schools during fire prevention week.

"We get calls constantly from people wanting smoke detectors," James said.

Lansing Fire Department does not have a smoke detector distribution program, said Fabian Newman, communications and technology director. However, it has a program for senior citizens who register with the department, which sends a firefighter to their home twice a year to change batteries in smoke detectors.

Newman said through the village's affiliation with the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, anytime there is a structure fire, the MABAS public education and safety group canvases a one- to two-block area around the fire and distributes smoke detectors in that area.

The Lowell Fire Department received a grant in March from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to distribute smoke detectors to residents who own their own home within their response area. They are taking applications for those who need smoke detectors.

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