GREENFIELD — The knock on the front door echoed loudly through the quiet streets.
Tami Smith and Fred Houston weren’t expecting visitors so early on a Saturday morning, but they welcomed the crowd of strangers inside with friendly greetings when they realized what the Greenfield Fire Territory and American Red Cross staff had to offer.
Nearly 50 volunteers and teams of firefighters combed Greenfield neighborhoods Saturday morning during the fire department’s inaugural smoke detector blitz, an effort aimed at connecting first-responders with local families to talk about fire safety measures and offer free equipment. Firefighters knocked on nearly 400 doors in a neighborhood in the city’s northeast corner, asking residents if they could install new smoke detectors inside the home free of charge and test or replace the batteries in any devices already in place.
Along the way, they asked dozens of families, like the Houston-Smiths, about fire safety, talked with them about starting emergency evacuation plans and passed out information about disaster-preparedness kits — all the while hoping their message would keep local families safe.
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On Saturday, Houston, Smith and their two children, Avery and Fred Jr., watched quietly as the firefighters tested the smoke detectors in the family’s home, the youngsters covering their ears and wincing slightly at the loud noises.
Smith said she changes the batteries in the smoke detectors whenever she hears the low-battery warning beep but rarely fiddles with the devices if there doesn’t appear to be a problem. On Saturday, she said she was glad to have the firefighters visit as a reminder of how important the detectors can be in the event of emergency.
Indiana’s chapter of the American Red Cross purchased about 250 smoke detectors to support the Greenfield Fire Territory’s smoke detector blitz, said Victoria Eder, a disaster program manager for the Red Cross.
The event was the first of this kind coordinated in Hancock County, Eder said.
Volunteers from the Red Cross, Army National Guard and the Rotary Club of Greenfield assisted the fire department with the effort, visiting homes between Apple and Date streets from U.S. 40 to Eighth Street, as well as the city’s two mobile home parks located off Pratt Street.
Fire officials said they hope to host the outreach programs several times a year, visiting different neighborhoods, until they can ensure each home in Greenfield is equipped with a working smoke detector.
For years, the fire department handed out the devices at community events or offered them to residents who visited the department’s two fire stations. But there was no guarantee the the devices would be installed once they were out of a firefighter’s sight, Greenfield Fire Marshal Brian Lott said.
Allowing experts to take the lead, going into homes and installing the smoke detectors, ensures that safety precaution is put in place, he said.
Far too often, firefighters arrive at the scene of house fire to discover a home with no working smoke detectors and — in the best-case scenario — a family outside and thankful for the close call. Such issues are a perennial problem for all communities, Lott said; and though a lack of working smoke detectors in residents’ homes has not caused major issues or deaths in Greenfield in recent years, the department’s administrators want to be proactive and reach out to residents before such a tragedy occurs, he said.
Placing smoke detectors in the proper place inside a home is part of that mission, Firefighter Joe Cales said.
A detector should be put in every bedroom and at least one open living area, Cales said. Each detector should be drilled into a wall a few inches from the ceiling, he said. Smoke detector batteries should be replaced twice a year, and the devices should be replaced every 10 years.
The fire department visited 380 houses Saturday to talk to residents about the smoke detectors and installed nearly 200 new devices, a great success for a first-time event, Greenfield Fire Chief James Roberts said.
“If we were able to install just one smoke detector, it was worth it,” he said.
– The risk of dying in a house fire increases by 50 percent if the property has no working smoke detectors.
– 38 percent of people who died in a fire between 2009 and 2013 were inside a home without a smoke detector; another 21 percent were in a home where a smoke detector malfunctioned.
*Source: The National Fire Protection Association
– Install smoke detectors in every bedroom and on every level of the home, including the basement.
– Keep smoke detectors away from the kitchen to reduce the risk of a false alarm. Smoke detectors should be placed at least 10 feet away from a stove.
– Test smoke detectors at least once a month.
– Change batteries in smoke detectors twice a year.
– Replace smoke detectors every 10 years or if they do not sound when tested.
– When a smoke alarm sounds, get outside and stay outside. Establish a meeting place where each family member knows to go, and call 911 from outside on a cellphone or neighbor’s phone.
Source: National Fire Protection Association, U.S. Fire Administration