Hundreds of free smoke alarms to be distributed in Austin

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The American Red Cross will distribute 450 smoke alarms in businesses and homes in Austin starting this weekend.

The American Red Cross, working in partnership with the Chicago Fire Department, will hand out smoke alarms along with home fire safety education information in its “sound the alarm” campaign.

The campaign, which runs from April 27 to May 12, is targeting at-risk communities in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with a goal of distributing 100,000 free smoke alarms.

Austin was selected because of the number of fires and fatalities it has had in recent years, said Iris Chaverri, regional marketing and communication manager for the American Red Cross. From July 2017 to June 2018, American Red Cross volunteers responded to 57 fires in Austin in which three people died.

“Our goal is to make the community safer through the installation of free smoke alarms and to provide home fire safety education to residents,” Chaverri said.

Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said the department has been working with the American Red Cross for years. Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) also is involved.

“One of the most important things we can do is prevent a tragic loss as a result of a home fire,” said Taliaferro, a former sergeant for the Chicago Police Department.

The alderman said the fire department and 29th Ward office has distributed free smoke alarms at other events, but this is the first time they are partnering with the American Red Cross and holding a “sound the alarm” event in Austin.

“I definitely believe it is a major problem, unfortunately,” Taliaferro said. “Anytime there is a preventable fire that occurs we have to look at the lives that have been lost or the families that are displaced and remember that our goal here is to try to prevent those events.”

Volunteers with American Red Cross will be going door to door with the free smoke alarms, which can last up to 10 years. Chaverri said a new report shows cost can be a factor in some cases: one in 10 adults reported not purchasing a smoke alarm because of the expense.

Having a working smoke alarm reduces a person’s chances of dying in a home fire by nearly 50%, according to the American Red Cross. Over the last four years, 552 lives have been saved, 1.6 million smoke alarms have been installed, 672,885 households have been made safe and 1.3 million youth have been reached through the campaign.

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