Red Cross effort aims to reduce fire deaths

Muskegon County

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan has a problem: it has consistently ranked among states with the highest number of fatal fires in the nation.

So far in 2019, 32 people have died from residential fires in the state.

For most people, getting a smoke detector was never a problem. If you couldn’t afford one, there was always a giveaway program.

The problem, once the detector is up, is forgotten.

But even of you change the batteries, smoke detectors are only effective for about 10 years.

“Within the last week I found that out. I never knew that,” said Tracy Wiersma of Muskegon, who took advantage of the American Red Cross Sound the Alarm, Safe a Life program.

Beyond homeowners forgetting to change the detectors, there was a bigger problem with the giveaway programs.

“People had the best of intentions. They take it home. They leave it in the box. It will sit on the counter a week or two, and then it ends up in the drawer, then it’s gone forever,” said Nikki Salladay, who is the disaster program manager for the American Red Cross of West Michigan.

The Red Cross is one of several groups are trying to reduce Michigan’s fatal fire numbers by installing detectors with ten-year batteries and educating residents on how react to a fire, and avoid one altogether.

Sound the Alarm, Save a Life’s aim is to install 100,000 smoke detectors in the country’s 100 most fire-vulnerable communities.

In Michigan, those communities include Detroit, Flint, Lansing, Muskegon, and portions of the Grand Rapids area.

“We work with local fire officials to help identify some of the more high-risk neighborhoods,” Salladay said.

On Friday, volunteers worked the Sheldon Park and Oakdale neighborhoods in Muskegon.

On Friday, May 10, volunteers will canvass Kentwood and parts of Wyoming.

“We’re still looking for places to put those up. So, love to set up an appointment (with) people,” Salladay said. “If they live in Kentwood. If you live in East Wyoming, even like south east Wyoming area, give us a call.”

Red Cross volunteers also provide information on how to avoid fires and hot to get out if one does break out.

“You may only have about two minutes to get out of the house, so it’s good to have a plan… an escape plan,” volunteer Steve Rogers told Tracy Wiersma during her home safety check.

“We actually give them a little gridded piece of paper that they can draw their own floor plan and then talk to family members about if you’re in this room, where are your exits of escape?” Salladay said.

If you’d like a visot from the Red Cross, go to or call 616.456.8661, extension 5400.

Sound the Alarm joins a host of similar programs, including the Grand Rapids Fire Department’s Residential Safety Assessment Program, which has placed working detectors in nearly 10,000 homes in the city, and E.S.C.A.P.E. Fire Safety in efforts to reduce fire fatalities in the state.



Grand Rapids Fire Department’s Residential Safety Assessment Program

E.S.C.A.P.E. Fire Safety

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