By Joel Hall
Last year, Riverdale Fire Services made more than 300 Riverdale homes safer by installing, checking, and replacing 500 smoke detectors, free of charge.
Starting this weekend, the department will go into the community once again, with the hopes of exceeding last year's efforts.
Every Saturday in October, firefighters and community volunteers will canvas neighborhoods, making sure residents have working smoke detectors. The kick-off for the campaign will take place this Saturday, Oct. 4, from 11 a.m,. to 3 p.m., at the corner of King Road and Highway 85.
The smoke detectors, made possible through a grant from the Georgia Firefighters Burn Foundation, serve as a primary defense for families and firefighters, according to Stephanie Burton, public safety educator for Riverdale Fire Services. She said, due to the success of last year's campaign, the community has become more involved.
"Last year, it was just the fire department" going door-to-door, said Burton. "This time, we have help from various organizations. It is going to be a complete community effort."
Burton said that last year, 95 percent of the homeowners visited by firefighters participated in the program. This year, volunteers will target the northwest sector of Riverdale, which has many homes which were built in the 1950s and 1960s -- before smoke detectors were standard.
In addition to distributing 400 smoke detectors over the next four Saturdays, the department plans to install 25 detectors which monitor both smoke and carbon monoxide levels. Burton said carbon monoxide, an odorless gas which displaces oxygen, can be a "silent killer" for people living in older houses.
"The carbon monoxide/smoke detectors are for older homes with gas furnaces from the 1950s and '60s," said Burton. "It is possible that they are still operating, but may be leaking carbon monoxide, and regular smoke detectors can't detect that."
Dewayne Earnest, Riverdale fire chief, said smoke detectors are "the first line of defense when it comes to fighting fires" and help prevent an unnecessary loss of life and property. He said people living in homes with smoke detectors are twice as likely to escape and survive a house fire.
"Having a working smoke alarm in your home is like having a firefighter in your home 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Earnest. "A fire doubles in size every five minutes. Anytime we can get early warning and early detection, that basically gives us more time.
"If we can save three to five minutes, we can save a lot more property," said Earnest.
Burton said installing the smoke alarms decreases the chance a firefighter will have to enter a burning home to save its occupants. She added that the campaign allows firefighters to learn the floor plans of the homes they are protecting.
"When we go into these homes, we don't know what these homes look like," said Burton. "When we install the smoke alarms, we can actually get an idea of the layout. It allows us to get to know not just the people, but the structure of the neighborhood, inside and out."
Free smoke alarms are available to Riverdale residents throughout the year. To inquire about the program, contact Stephanie Burton, Riverdale Fire Services public safety educator, at (770) 909-5463.