Volunteers fanned out through Aberdeen's neighborhoods Monday, installing free smoke detectors in people's homes and helping residents develop a plan to get out during a fire.
The American Red Cross of the Greater Chesapeake Region teamed with the Aberdeen Fire Department, along with organizations such as the Aberdeen Lions Club, Mountain Christian Church, of Joppa, Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna, Gold Star Mothers and individual volunteers to distribute and install smoke detectors.
It is part of a nationwide initiative by the Red Cross, called the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign, to reduce by 25 percent the number of people killed or injured in a residential fire in the U.S. by 2020.
About 2,500 people die nationwide each year because of dwelling fires, Chris Young, regional disaster officer for the Greater Chesapeake Red Cross, told the volunteers, who gathered in the cafeteria of Halls Cross Roads Elementary School for a short training before they visited their assigned neighborhoods.
"Our goal is to help prevent that from happening and to save lives," Young said.
Fifty-two people, including volunteers and Red Cross staff, participated in Monday's event, a project that was part of the National Day of Service for Martin Luther King Day.
Halls Cross Roads Elementary School students participated last week in another part of the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign, educating kids, through the Pillowcase Project, sponsored by Disney. Children get to decorate pillowcases, which they will use to store emergency supplies, and they learn to develop household evacuation plans that include their pets, according to the American Red Cross website.
Monday was supposed to be the second day of a two-day initiative to distribute 800 to 1,000 smoke detectors throughout Aberdeen starting Saturday, but that distribution was postponed because of rainy and icy weather over the weekend.
It will be rescheduled, according to Cyndi Ryan, a spokesperson for the Red Cross chapter.
Young showed the volunteers the simple process of installing a circular mounting bracket in the wall or ceiling and then putting in the detector. The smoke detectors are designed to be good for 10 years, and they should be tested once a month by pressing a button on the unit.
"We should be averaging about three alarms per house," he said.
The participants were divided into teams of four to five people, and each team went to one of 19 zones that were southeast of the railroad tracks that bisect Aberdeen.
Dennis Chisholm, of Pylesville, Kathy Hartka, of Bel Air, and Justin and Melissa Johnson, of Aberdeen Proving Ground, went through the Swan Meadows neighborhood, knocking on doors and asking residents for permission to install smoke detectors.
The volunteers wore red vests with the Red Cross logo. Justin Johnson is an Army sergeant assigned to APG, and his wife is a civilian employee at the post. Chisolm and Hartka are Habitat for Humanity volunteers.
Many people were not home late Monday morning, but the team was welcomed into several houses along Swan Street.
Resident Kimberly Pack got a new detector in her kitchen and a replacement unit for her hallway. She said the units would help "a whole lot," because dwellings such as her duplex "go up like tinderboxes," if a fire breaks out.
She also got information from Chisolm and Hartka about having Habitat for Humanity build a rear entrance so her disabled roommate can get out.
"I didn't know how we'd get her out of here" in a fire, Pack said.
Stacey Baines, who operates the in-home Little Smiles With Big Dreams Family Day Care Center, can have up to eight children in her house.
The team gave her two new detectors - one for the kitchen and the other for the hallway. Baines pointed out an existing smoke detector in her living room. She said she practices fire drills with the children once a month.
Baines noted the extra detectors will be helpful.
"That's perfect, to even have one in the kitchen to make it a little easier," she said.
Craig Walker, a firefighter with the Aberdeen Fire Department, said his department also gives out free smoke detectors, but usually when people request them – about 40 have been given out since Fire Prevention Week last October.
He said most Aberdeen residents have working smoke detectors, but there have been cases where detectors have been disconnected or not maintained.
"You're face to face, and it gives them an opportunity to make sure that their family is safe," Walker said of the door-to-door distribution.