AUGUSTA — Volunteers and staff from the American Red Cross joined forces with the Augusta Fire Department to install smoke alarms in about 100 homes Saturday.

The installations were part of a larger nationwide event called “Sound the Alarm,” which is part of the Red Cross’s Home Fire Campaign. Through the campaign, more than 1.6 million smoke alarms have been installed since 2014.

Fire Chief Roger Audette said this is the second time the department has participated in the program. During a short address before volunteers were dispatched, Audette said he and department officials picked the eastern part of Augusta for the program, including some homes in Vassalboro, because nine fire deaths had occurred there in the last three decades.

Audette said Augusta’s housing stock is among the oldest in the nation. Newer homes “burn quicker” than older homes, which adds up to serious fire danger for firefighters and area residents.

“We’ve got almost double (the requests for smoke alarms) than some of the other communities,” he said. “Your hard work and effort that you put in will save lives … and make firefighters safer.”

State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas thanked the volunteers for their work in preparing Augusta residents for home fires, which could be the difference between life and death. According to the National Fire Protection Association, three out of five home fire deaths result from fires in properties without working smoke alarms. Further, the association says the risk of dying in a home fire is cut in half in homes with working smoke alarms.

“I’ve been at this now for 46 years, and I’m sick and tired of putting people in body bags,” Thomas said. “They don’t have to die.”

Ashley St. Louis, who has volunteered with the Red Cross for about six months, had a very simple answer when asked why she began volunteering: “I love saving lives.”

“No matter what, I’m just going to smile and say ‘I love saving lives,'” she said as she exited a home.

St. Louis was part of a team that installed three smoke alarms in Jim Palmer’s home on Riverside Drive. Palmer, a disabled Navy veteran, was thankful for the assistance changing out his alarms, some of which were about to expire.

“I’m kind of home-bound; I can’t drive or nothing,” he said. “I appreciate (the help) because I try to keep everything up and safe, but it’s kind of hard.”

Volunteers spent the day in teams of two or three, visiting residents to replace their smoke alarms and urging them to set up a preparedness plan. Some smoke alarms replaced had passed their expiration dates, which are usually about 10 years after they are installed. Dead batteries were the cause of 25 percent of smoke alarm failures, according to the fire protection association.

Regional Chief Executive Officer for the American Red Cross of Maine Patricia Murtagh said at the opening ceremony that 11 people were alerted to fires in Maine because of alarms installed through the program. Caroline King, executive director for the Red Cross Northern and Eastern Maine, said eight of those 11 were in Farmingdale.

“We know of 11 people whose lives have been saved by these alarms,” Murtagh said. “We don’t know which one will save a life, we don’t know when it will be, but each of you will make a significant difference.”

Events were also held Saturday in Lewiston and Auburn. This year, the campaign hopes to install 100,000 alarms nationwide between April 27 and May 12. King said installations will still happen outside of that date range if others need new smoke alarms.

“We’ll do one-by-one installations as the need arises; it’s anywhere in Maine for anyone in need,” she said. “There are no restrictions. You call, we come.”


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