The county Department of Fire and Rescue Services, looking for creative ways to battle the recession, is using a "free enterprise" approach that will combine pizzas and public education to prevent fires.

Domino's Pizza deliverymen are offering to conduct free inspections of smoke detectors at every residence they deliver to during Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 6-13.

If your smoke detector doesn't work, you will receive a coupon for a free 9-volt battery from the nearest county fire station, compliments of the county.

If the detector is working, the deliveryman will issue a coupon for $1 off a Domino's pizza.

Fire officials say county budget tightening has taken money away from public education programs. Alternative strategies are needed, they say.

"Since funding isn't available, we're being encouraged to be more creative in meeting the needs of the public," said Steve Watts, a 28-year-old sergeant in the fire service who came up with the smoke detector idea.

Fire officials hope to inspect as many as 6,000 smoke detectors through the pizza deliveries. Failure to check the battery in a smoke detector is an ongoing problem that is usually targeted in the fire department's public education programs, Watts said.

"But right now, the economic climate has made it impossible for us to send firefighters to all these homes," Watts said.

"The most effective way for us to get the message out is through ways that cost the least amount of money."

The commercial strategy is not new to the fire department, which, under director Darl R. McBride, recently began surveying its "customers" for their opinions about the department's overall service.

"We're trying to parallel private enterprise and sell the idea of improved public service," said McBride, who took over as director April 8. "Just because we are the only fire service in town doesn't mean we should sit back and say, 'We don't even have to try.' "

The fire service is also considering putting recruitment pamphlets in videocassette boxes of "Backdraft" -- a recent movie that heralded firefighters -- at participating Howard County video stores.

"It's like when 'Top Gun' came out, a lot of people wanted to become Air Force pilots," said Watts, who works in the fire prevention section. "With this, we would have a very cost-effective way to tell people how they can become a county firefighter."

Edgar Shilling, a deputy chief in the fire prevention section, said the department also expects to put smoke detectors in each fire prevention vehicle, so that firefighterscan give them to homes that don't have them.

The smoke detectors,worth about $10 each, would be given out free.

"We're trying to do whatever we can to let the public know that even though economic times are tough, we're still looking out for public safety," Shilling said.

County Executive Charles I. Eckerapplauded the fire service'sefforts.

"We don't have the money for anything but bare necessities right now, so if you've got creative ideas, now's the time to do them," he said. "We need all the good ideas we can get."

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