By Dana Fields
American Red Cross
A distinctive “chirp-chirp-chirp” pierces the air, signaling that the new smoke alarm in Kenneth and Brandy Bullard’s living room is operational and ready to save lives.
The three-member Red Cross team that installed the device moves further into the couple’s Sedalia home to install three more, all free of charge. The work is part of the Red Cross national campaign to reduce home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent by 2019.
Amid all the chirping, volunteer Chris Benne — the fire safety educator in the team — playfully peppers the couple’s 9-year-old son, Zac, with questions about the topic at hand. The boy answers every one quickly and correctly, including a description of the family’s escape plan.
“It’s what he learned at school, and what we’ve been teaching them,” Kenneth says of Zac and the couple’s three other young children. “It’s so important to us.”
Their work done, Chris and fellow volunteers Gary Lamb, who performs the installations, and Air Force Tech Sgt. Robert Harris, who documents each one, head across the street to where a woman had noticed the men in Red Cross vests and asked to talk with them. Her home has four smoke alarms, but they’re at least six years old; the team decides to replace all four.
Such scenes played out throughout Sedalia on a recent Saturday as the Red Cross, in partnership with Whiteman Air Force Base, the United Way, the Sedalia Fire Department, the Salvation Army and other organizations conducted a six-hour blitz of free smoke alarm installations.
Toting ladders and buckets loaded with smoke alarms, dozens of volunteers went door to door offering their services in neighborhoods that had experienced high numbers of home fires.
By the end of the day, 236 alarms had been installed, and the teams took dozens of appointments for more installations, said Teri Layton, disaster program specialist for the Greater Kansas City Chapter of the American Red Cross. Volunteers from Whiteman had found Saturday’s mass event so enjoyable that they offered to perform the follow-up installations, Teri said.
Some residents were surprised by the Red Cross presence, but many more had heard of the smoke alarm event thanks to heavy publicity by area news media and the work of 57 volunteers placing 2,000 door hangers in the targeted neighborhoods the previous week.
Many residents who would not be home for the mass installation made appointments for earlier installations, 100 of which done by the Fire Department.
The campaign was a case of a distinct need — Sedalia had recently experienced numerous home fires, including a Thanksgiving Day blaze that destroyed three houses and damaged a fourth — and the capacity of the Red Cross to fulfill it.
The only shortage was in available Red Cross volunteers, but that was quickly met by residents like Benne and Lamb, who stepped up to take part, and military personnel like Harris.
Partner organizations were also critical, Teri said. The United Way and the Fire Department helped organize the event. The Salvation Army offered its building as headquarters, and Open Door Ministries prepared lunch for the volunteers.
Companies like Kohl’s and Tyson contributed as well, and Whiteman Air Force Base became involved through the Red Cross’s Services to Armed Forces program.
“It all came together,” Teri said. “Everything just seemed to want to happen.”
Anyone wanting a free smoke alarm installed by Red Cross volunteers should go to https://getasmokealarm.org/ and fill out the information.
If you would like to become a Red Cross volunteer, go to redcross.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767.