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Pictured left to right: Ginger Weaver, American Red Cross disaster specialist; Dean Farmer, chief of the Farmville Fire Department; Charles Magann, chief of the Chase City Volunteer Fire Department; Kiki Mitchell, Red Cross disaster volunteer; and Michael Vaughan, deputy chief of the South Hill Volunteer Fire Department.

The American Red Cross is teaming up with Mecklenburg Countys volunteer fire departments to offer citizens free smoke detectors for their homes. Red Cross Disaster Specialist Ginger Weaver brought a van load of smoke alarms to the South Hill Volunteer Fire Department last week to be distributed to area fire departments. Across the country, firefighters and trained volunteers are installing new alarms during a three-week window the Red Cross has set aside to try to get more homes covered by alarms.  

Every eight minutes, the American Red Cross responds to a disaster. Most of these are home fires which take an average of seven lives a day, Weaver said. Thats why were so intent on trying to make homes safer, and making a huge deal of how many lives have been saved by the program.

Weaver said this is the programs second year, but it is the first time Mecklenburg County has been part of the focus. Her goal is to get 180 smoke alarms installed in the county. To date, alarms installed as part of the program are credited with saving 582 lives nationwide. 

Although the focus for these three weeks is smoke alarms, Weaver said those are only one part of fire safety. Firefighters installing the alarms will also be leaving information with residents about other steps they should take, such as testing their alarms every month. Weaver said everyone should make sure their doors and hallways remain unblocked so there is a clear exit pathor entrance path, should someone inside need emergency servicesand they should also make and practice an escape plan. 

In your own home, you should try to think of at least two ways to get out of the house, you know, if you were asleep, for instance, Weaver said. It might be a window, and thats fine.”

Weaver also said people should teach their children not to play with things that start fires and also about escape routes. 

The program does not simply allot one smoke detector to each home, but instead allows residents to get the number they need based on the layout of their homes. In addition, Weaver said that hearing impaired persons can request accompanying alarms that respond to the sound of the basic alarm by vibrating so that a sleeping person feels the shaking and wakes up. 

Weaver said there are numerous program sponsors this year, but State Farm is the main sponsor for Virginia. 

Those wishing to schedule a free smoke alarm installation should call (434) 470-7332. The program runs until May 11.