Boots-on-ground initiative in North Adams aims to reduce fire-related deaths

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NORTH ADAMS — First responders and volunteers went on the offensive this week to prevent house fires in the city.

Red Cross volunteers Suzanne Walker, her husband, Don Caurse, and North Adams firefighter Tyler Bolte knocked on doors Thursday to help local folks install 10-year smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.

The effort is part of a five-year fire-prevention initiative by the American Red Cross to reduce fire-related deaths by 25 percent. This is the fourth year of the initiative.

"Active smoke detectors really make a huge difference," said Walker, who is a Red Cross volunteer in Western Massachusetts, just like her husband. "We would prefer to do this and keep people safe rather than coming out because of a fire."

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there were 7,000 fires in U.S. homes in 2017 — 1,900 of them fatal. The majority of residential fires are caused by cooking, followed by heaters, unintentional carelessness, electrical malfunctions and open flame.

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Walker noted that this is the start of fire season and when the weather turns, heaters are turned on, fireplaces are lit up, and space heaters and candles are in use again. All of these things can cause a fire.

Caurse said that since this program started, there have been 25 documented cases of lives saved by the new smoke detectors. This week, about 60 homes were outfitted with new detectors — four teams of three went out Tuesday, and three teams of three each were out Thursday.

Once in the homes, the team checked the existing detectors and, if needed, replaced them. They also installed carbon monoxide detectors and briefed homeowners on fire-prevention practices.

"I think ours are getting old, and my sister and I don't know how to change them," said homeowner Barbara Comeau, after the team had done its work and moved on. "Especially for old people — it's all about safety. And everyone was very nice — pleasant, helpful and informative."

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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