Every day, seven people die in home fires in the United States. A string of recent headlines here in Maine makes it clear that we are in no way immune to these tragedies.

A cooking fire that claimed the life of an 82-year-old man in Gorham after it spread through his mobile home. An 88-year-old man perished in a five-alarm fire in Biddeford that displaced dozens. A 73-year-old man in West Falmouth was killed by a fire that spread to his home from the attached garage. A 79-year-old woman and her 57-year-old son lost their lives in a fire that leveled a house in Bar Harbor. All over a period of less than two months.

Home fires pose a real hazard to communities, killing more people in the United States than all other natural disasters combined. Here in Maine, we generally have between 15 to 25 fire-related deaths annually. Already this year, we have seen 11 such fatalities.

There are concrete actions that can help prevent these disasters. That is why the American Red Cross is teaming up with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, local fire departments and other partners for Sound the Alarm. Save a Life. This campaign aims to install 100,000 free smoke alarms across the nation while increasing preparedness over two weeks this spring.

Sound the Alarm is part of the broader Home Fire Campaign launched by the Red Cross in 2014 with the goal of reducing home fire deaths and injuries. Going from home to home, community to community, across the nation, the Red Cross and its partners have installed more than 1.2 million smoke alarms, with over 12,000 of those in Maine. Gov. LePage directed $5,000 to the State Fire Marshal’s Office so it could provide smoke alarms for these efforts.

We know this work is paying off. The lives of at least 416 people, including eight in Maine, have been saved because of these efforts.

It’s a fact that smoke alarms save lives. Working smoke alarms in a home reduce the risk of death by half, and having an escape plan further increases the odds of survival. We know that in 60 percent of home fire deaths, the smoke alarms weren’t functioning or there were no smoke alarms at all.

In Maine, the Sound the Alarm event will take place in Portland, South Portland and Westbrook on May 12. We can use your help to make Maine homes safer and we believe you will find this a very rewarding way to make an impact in your community. Check out SoundTheAlarm.org/Maine to learn more or to register to volunteer.

Teams will canvass door-to-door to make appointments before May 12, when they’ll be back to install free smoke alarms, replace batteries in existing alarms, help families create escape plans and provide additional preparedness tips.

A recent survey for the Red Cross indicates that most people are overconfident and underprepared when it comes to home fire safety. Forty percent believe that the odds are more likely that they’ll win the lottery or be struck by lightning than experience a home fire. And many Americans have a false sense of security about their ability to escape a home fire even though they haven’t taken precautions that would help keep them safe.

Nearly 60 percent of people mistakenly believe they have more time than they really do to safely escape a home fire. The reality is that you may have as little as two to three minutes. Eighty percent believe everyone in their household knows what to do when they hear a smoke alarm, but fewer than half have a plan. Of those who do, only about half actually practice them.

Taking a few steps can make all the difference. We urge you to:

Test your smoke alarms every month. If they’re the type where you can replace the batteries, do so at least twice a year. Remember: “Change your clock, change your battery.”

Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas.

— Have an escape plan that includes at least two ways out of each room.

— Have a meeting spot that is a safe distance from your home.

— Practice fire drills to be able to get out in two minutes or less.

Please take the time to protect yourself and your loved ones through these measures and consider helping other families make themselves safer by joining us as we Sound the Alarm to save lives.

— Special to the Press Herald

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