Through the American Red Cross of Maine, 30 volunteers installed 319 smoke alarms in Rumford and Mexico on March 11. Residents without smoke alarms can still get them for free through the Rumford and Mexico fire departments.

Rumford firefighter Lee Hough installs a smoke detector.

A fire-preparedness campaign that began March 11 is still underway by the Rumford and Mexico fire departments.

Thanks to the American Red Cross of Maine, residents without smoke alarms can still get them free of charge through fire departments in these towns.

Rumford Fire Chief Bob Chase said, “They (the Red Cross) told us it’s an ongoing campaign, so we’ll continue to take calls and continue to install smoke detectors around the community. And when those hundred are going, I’ll request a hundred more and keep it going.”

Combined with a similar effort from the West Paris and Norway fire departments, Chase said there were more than 900 smoke detectors installed in Oxford County on March 11.

“We had over 30 volunteers and we installed 319 smoke alarms in the Rumford/Mexico area, which is huge,” he said. “Additionally, they changed over two dozen batteries for people who had smoke detectors but needed new batteries.”

He said firefighters also went into the homes to educate people as well. This included helping people to create their own evacuation plan and answer “a ton of home safety questions.”

“It was just a huge, huge opportunity for us to get good positive messages out into the community,” Chase said.

He said that by March 22, his department had installed another 50 smoke detectors. From that event, word of mouth has led to more appointments.

“People continue to come to the station or call us for smoke-alarm installations,” he said. “This was a huge success and we’ll continue to move forward.”

“We want to get out as many (smoke detectors) as we can,” Mexico Fire Chief Richie Jones said. “If anyone wants one, they can call and let us know.”

He said people were really good to volunteers during the March 11 event.

“When it warms up, we’re probably going to go door-to-door again, like we did that day,” Jones said.

Besides the regular smoke detectors, Jones said they also installed three smoke detectors specially made for the hearing impaired.

“It goes in the bed,” Jones said. “So when the alarm on the wall goes off, it triggers this in the bed and it vibrates the bed and it gets them up.”

He said there was one of these installed in Mexico, and two others in Rumford.

Jones said if a person can’t hear the fire alarm, they are eligible for the bed unit.

“That’s all we had that day, but if we find someone that needs one of those, we’ll fill out the paperwork and send it to the Red Cross and they’ll order them,” he said.

Chase said they’re installed mostly in tenements, because of the population density. But single-family homes are just as at risk, and “we’re putting in just as many now in single-family homes as in tenements.”

He said it’s really about safety.

“We’re trying not to take the responsibility of landlords to do what the code requires them to do, and circumvent that. But often times, those are hard-wired smoke detectors that landlords are required to put in. They still need the hard-wired ones. Rather, this is for residents who believe they need an additional one, or whose might be in need of repair and the landlord hasn’t gotten to it yet, and we have the opportunity to try to keep them safe until then.”

When going into homes for the installations, volunteers also made some observations.

“We found a lot of smoke detectors that the batteries had been removed,” Chase said. “When talking to people, most of the time it was chirping and the battery needed to be replaced, so they took it out. They didn’t have any on hand, so they just left it out and had forgotten about it. So they did a lot of battery replacements.”

Other people didn’t realize their smoke detectors were too old.

“We’d take the smoke detector down, look at the back of it, and it would 12 to 15 years old,” he said. “It should be replaced every 10 years.”

The new smoke detectors have built-in 10-year batteries.

“But because there’s a 10-year battery in that doesn’t mean that you forget about your smoke detector,” Chase said. “We encourage them to replace the batteries at least test them twice a year, which we usually do when we change the clocks.”

With the Red Cross program, volunteers were encouraged to make sure there was a smoke detector on each level, and immediately outside of each sleeping area.

“This was a huge first step for us, to get in people’s homes and for public education,” he said.

In many cases, the visits were a half hour or more, even though the smoke detector installations only took 10 or 15 minutes.

“We answered a ton of questions,” Chase said. “There were people who came to us with old fire extinguishers and wanted information on how to dispose, replace or recharge them. Some wanted general fire safety information, home evacuation plans. I got to spend 15 to 20 minutes with two young kids who were less than 3 years old and we talked a lot about the noise that smoke detectors make, and to not be scared, but be able to remember where they are and how to get out of the house.

“Our goal when we started the project was 500 smoke detectors in Rumford and 500 in Mexico,” he said. “We still have a gap to fill and the Red Cross seems committed to supporting us as we move forward. That would mean several hundred more in Rumford and we want to put them out there.”

Another observation is that there were many homes that didn’t have carbon monoxide detectors.

“I’m hoping in years to come that we can identify a funding source that might help us to a similar program with CO detectors,” Chase said.

Rumford residents who would like to have a free smoke detector installed may call 207-364-2901. Mexico residents should call 207-364-3612. 

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