The Alaska Red Cross partners with the Anchorage Fire Department and RAVN Alaska each Martin Luther King Jr. Day to install smoke alarms free of charge in selected Anchorage neighborhoods for the annual Day of Service to honor the life of Dr. King.

This year, the partners met in the Mayflower mobile home community in the Boniface area, assembled into teams of two to four and went door-to-door asking if anyone would like their fire alarms checked.

"We had a fatality fire back in December and that was pretty tough," Bruce Whelan with the American Red Cross said. "We want to make sure that doesn't happen again."

The Red Cross will typically take it upon themselves to go door-to-door in various neighborhoods but having a little help on this holiday means a lot.

"People are always glad to see the firefighters," Whelan said. "They do good work for the community."

Volunteers started around 1 p.m. after a brief training session then set out to update fire alarms. If no one was home, a door hanger was left, letting the homeowner know someone was there, and if they wanted their alarm checked, someone would come back out at a later date to do that for them.

"It's one of the most important aspects living in any home," Captain Nick Davis with the Anchorage Fire Department said. "Elderly, children, people with special needs, if you're sleeping at night, the only things that can wake you up are these smoke alarms. If it's a smoky atmosphere, you wouldn't even know. You could potentially go unconscious from what's in the smoke and never hear what is going on inside."

Captain Davis says in all of his years of service, mobile homes and apartments have all the components to get out of control very fast.

"The fire can double every minute," Davis said. "Imagine a small fire, five-by-five feet. That can double to a fire 10-by-ten feet in less than 60 seconds."

It takes the Anchorage Fire Department an average of four minutes to get to a fire. That's after the call has come into dispatch.

"You never know how long it takes someone to call 911," Davis said. "The fire could be going three minutes before that happens. Then it's four minutes before we get here. Now the fire has quadrupled. Mobile homes can go very fast."

Davis says that's because of the lightweight materials builders use to manufacture the living spaces. Although the homes may be insulated well and stay warm, the older the building gets, the more flammable it becomes.

"Our number one priority with these trailers is making sure everyone gets out safely," Davis said. "We don't want anyone left in the structure. Oftentimes, these are called horizontal chimneys because some of the materials can combust easily. That's why these fire or smoke alarms are so important."

Besides checking and installing fire alarms, the Red Cross also discusses with people fire safety tips and how to make a family escape plan.

"Often times we find children get very confused-- even adults do-- if there is a fire," Whelan said. "We want to make sure they know how to meet, where to meet when the smoke alarm goes off in case there is a fire."

According to the Red Cross of Alaska, they installed a total of 2,311 smoke alarms in fiscal year 2017. This is a 62 percent increase of smoke alarms installed over fiscal year 2016.

The Red Cross of Alaska and its partners provide and install smoke alarms to Alaskans in need at no cost. This is a part of the ongoing Home Fire campaign.
The American Red Cross launched the Home Fire campaign in 2014 with a goal of reducing the number of home fire deaths and injuries by 25 percent.

Davis says it's a good rule of thumb to check your smoke alarm batteries every time to turn your clocks back or ahead. It's just a good routine to get into.

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