Every day, seven people die and 36 people suffer injury from home fires. Launched in 2014 by the American Red Cross, the Home Fire Campaign has saved 260 lives, installed nearly 942,000 fire alarms and more than 390,000 homes were made safer across the U.S. in hopes of decreasing these incidents 25% by 2020. Recently, I had the opportunity to be a part of this vital and pivotal campaign.
That day, I was excited to get out in the community and provide hands-on help, but there was a bit of apprehension as well. I have worked with the public many times before, but not in such an intimate setting. Even though they were expecting us, entering someone’s home as a stranger, I thought we would be seen as intrusive, rather than helpful. I was fully expecting to be met with a little hesitation or resistance.
Each volunteer was paired up with a member of the Asheville Fire Department. While they installed the fire alarms, we, the volunteers, were in charge of the paperwork and talking with the members of the household about creating an evacuation plan and providing other safety tips. My partner Joe and I were talking on the ride over to our first house and he mentioned that it was his first time participating in the campaign as well. This immediately put me at ease and completely changed my attitude—we would tackle this together!
As we pulled up to the house, we saw children outside riding bikes. We got out of the car and one of the little boys rode up to Joe and excitedly asked, “Are you a firefighter?!” Joe responded with a smile. While he was unloading the equipment, the little boy informed Joe that his friend’s dad was a firefighter. The two talked about all of the people they had in common. When they finished, we began walking towards the front door and the little boy asked “are you going to MY house?” As it turned out, we were. Knocking on the door, we were warmly greeted by his mom and dad. They immediately knew who we were and why we were there (I guess the fire department shirt and Red Cross vest gave us away). They welcomed us into their home and helped identify all of the rooms that had or needed fire alarms. Joe got to work installing and I got to work filling out the paperwork.
As I sat at their kitchen table, I noticed that they were in the middle of cooking dinner and wondered if we were intruding, but as we talked about the campaign, their recent move and what restaurants they liked it felt as if I was talking with family friends. When Joe was finished installing the alarms and I had finished the paperwork and safety discussion, they gave us hugs in appreciation and thanked us for making their home safer.
On the short drive to the next house we talked about what a great first experience that was and how good it made us feel to be able to help provide something so simple, but so important.
The next house was occupied by a group of girls who were having alarms installed at the request of their landlord. Like the previous family, they were very welcoming, showed us around and answered all of our questions. It was a four bedroom house and all four bedrooms were lacking an alarm. After he was finished, Joe also fixed their carbon monoxide detector they had just purchased and installed, but the battery had not been plugged in all the way. While Joe went to fixing and testing it, they mentioned they had a gas stove, and if anything were to happen, the CO detector is the only thing that would warn them of a leak. They were very grateful and thanked us as we left.
On the way back to headquarters, Joe and I discussed what a great experience this was and how thankful we were to have had the opportunity to help others in our community.
The Red Cross responds to nearly 64,000 disasters every year and home fires are a vast majority. Volunteers carry out 90% of the Red Cross’ humanitarian work. I am overjoyed to be a part of that 90% and hope that this experience will inspire others to share their time and talents with the Red Cross.
This fall, the Red Cross is participating in Sound the Alarm, a nationwide initiative to install 100,000 free smoke alarms in 100 cities and towns across the nation, including Charlotte, Greensboro and High Point in our region. During a 3 week period, the Red Cross will install its one-millionth free smoke alarm since the home fire campaign started in 2014. If you would like to get involved this fall, please sign up at SoundtheAlarm.org/wnc. #EndHomeFires
If you can’t join us for this event, but would like to volunteer or learn more about opportunities available, visit redcross.org/volunteer.
Authored by Katelyn Shiring, an intern with the Western North Carolina Region’s communications team.