2013-07-12 / Front Page

Grant provides for home alarms

Fire department installing smoke, carbon monoxide detectors
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

This month the Scarborough Fire Department will begin installing smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in homes across the community, thanks to a $286,398 Federal Fire Prevention grant.

The grant was awarded to the Metro Fire Chief’s Coalition, a group made up of fire chiefs in the greater Portland area.

The group formed a few years back to create better relationships between the eight communities during mutual aid calls or emergency situations at the Portland International Jetport.

Fire Chiefs from Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gorham, Portland, Scarborough, South Portland and Westbrook make up the group.

“It was an opportunity for the chiefs to get together and talk about operating procedures at the jetport, but over the years, it’s grown into a great group. We do a lot of things beyond the jetport,” said Scarborough Fire Chief B. Michael Thurlow.

Thurlow said the Scarborough Fire Department is “targeting the older homes and those with the young, the elderly and the hearing impaired.”

The program is expected to roll out Monday, July 15 and is open for residents in Scarborough and Falmouth.

Through the grant, fire officials from the two communities will visit homes to conduct safety checks and install new alarm systems, if necessary.

The Maine Center for Deafness has teamed up with fire officials to help with safety checks at homes with individuals who are hard of hearing or deaf.

“We know there are very specific target populations that are at risk everywhere and certainly in our communities. Those populations include children under the age of 4 and seniors over the age of 65 and those who are deaf or hard of hearing,” said Steve Willis, chairman of the fire science program at Southern Maine Community College.

Students in the program will help train officials prior to the home visits.

The goal, Willis said, is to reduce the number of people who die as a result of a fire and educate people on the importance of proper fire detection systems, particularly in the home, where the majority of fires take place.

According to the Maine Fire Marshal’s Office, between 2002 and 2011, 160 people in Maine died from fires. Most of the deaths occurred in the nighttime hours and nine in 10 occurred at a residence.

Of particular concern, Thurlow said, is the older homes in Scarborough that may not have a proper smoke or carbon dioxide system in place.

“We have a number of the older homes that don’t (have working smoke detectors),” Thurlow said. “Ninety percent of homes have detectors in them, but what we are finding is, the batteries have been robbed out of them or they aren’t working.”

A fire alarm, he said, has a 10-year life span. The smoke detectors in many homes in Scarborough have exceeded their life spans.

“There is a lot of stuff out there that should be replaced. That is one of the target areas we are working on,” Thurlow said.

The issue is not exclusive to Scarborough. The National Fire Prevention Association reports that in a 2008 survey, 96 percent of homes in the country had smoke alarms, but close to half of them were not working due to missing or dead batteries.

“A lot of people have a false sense of security, thinking they are safe because they have a smoke alarm, but a lot of those alarms don’t work because the batteries have been taken out or the batteries are dead,” Willis said.

Elissa Moran, executive director of the Maine Center for Deafness said the organization will bridge “the communication barrier” during the home safety checks and oversee the installation of tactile alerting devices in homes with hard of hearing residents.

“People with hearing loss will more likely than not take their hearing aid off at night and if they are sleeping on their good ear, they simply cannot hear the alarm,” Moran said, “A tactile alerting device helps with that.”

A tactile alerting device, Moran said, physically shakes the bed, alerting its owner the firm alarm is sounding.

Moran said a strobe light can also be connected to the fire alarm as an additional way to alert the resident.

Moran said the organization is using this opportunity as a “springboard to start a larger discussion of personal emergency preparedness.”

Thurlow said new construction in Scarborough is required to have “a hardwired interconnected” smoke alarm system that sounds in all rooms where there is a smoke alarm. This grant, however, provides for a simpler system.

“Our intent is to try to get in and help folks who can’t afford to replace their smoke alarm system. We are installing a single station system. They will not be interconnected,” Thurlow said. A single station system sounds only when an individual alarm has been triggered.

As part of the effort, however, smoke and carbon dioxide alarms will be installed on each floor, as well as in each bedroom.

Early detection of smoke or a fire is crucial, Willis said. The National Institute of Science and Technology reports the average escape time from a fire has decreased from 17 minutes in 1975 to just three minutes in 2007.

Two ways out of a residence and a family emergency plan are recommended for all residences.

“Fires get very big, very fast, so it is critical people plan well and have the equipment and detectors in place should there be a fire,” Willis said.

Homeowners interested in participating in the program or a safety check should call 730-4298.

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