Don’t panic if you see firefighters at your door in the next few months. They aren’t there because you have a fire you don’t know about: they are there to make sure you are protected, if you do have a fire.
Thanks to a FEMA Fire Prevention and Safety grant of $26,780—and an additional $3,000 from the municipality—Mt. Lebanon firefighters have embarked on a door-to-door smoke detector campaign in select portions of community. Firefighter Chris Switala, who wrote the grant, says that based on data the fire department had collected during non-emergency visits—such as home safety and fireplace inspections and After the Fire visits (in which firefighters chat about fire safety to residents living near the scene of a recent fire)—about 20 percent of Mt. Lebanon homes do not have working smoke alarms; that number rises to more than 33 percent in portions of Wards 4 (Sunset Hills) and 5 (Central Core). In many cases, the firefighters found detectors that were so old they had lost sensitivity or ones with dead, missing or disconnected batteries. Remember: a smoke detector should be replaced every ten years and batteries checked twice a year.
“They were living with a false sense of security,” Switala says, “They see a detector and think, ‘I’m protected.’ But they don’t realize the battery is low or was disconnected.” According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), nearly two-thirds of all residential fire fatalities occurred in houses lacking working smoke detectors. “Having a working smoke detector is the biggest thing you can do when it comes to protecting yourself,” Switala says.
Firefighters are targeting single-family houses and duplexes in the areas where they have seen the greatest need—most of Ward 4, the majority of Ward 5 and portions of Wards 1 and 3. (Apartments will be bypassed, as municipal code requires landlords to install smoke detectors in apartment units and common areas; firefighters inspect these buildings every other year.) If a house does not have a working smoke alarm, firefighters will install one for free. The grant will pay for 1,650 smoke alarms and a limited number of . alarms designed for people with hearing impairments. (These alarms use strobe lights, low frequency sound and will even shake the bed at night.) Firefighters will give homeowners batteries if an alarm is in good condition but needs fresh batteries.
Switala will send a notification letter out to homeowners about a week before firefighters will be in the neighborhood. During the winter, visits will fall on weekend afternoons; in the spring weeknight hours will be added. If you are away when the firefighters call or are in an area that is not canvassed, you can schedule an appointment by calling 412-343-3402. The door-to-door campaign will take about a year to complete.
Expect the visit to last 10 minutes. If it is determined you need a new detector, one will be installed outside the main sleeping area of your house. Switala adds that everyone should have at least two smoke alarms—one on every floor of the house and ideally one in every bedroom.
The first segment of visits took place this fall around Church Place and Martin and Lavina avenues. Firefighters found 42 percent of the houses along these streets needed a detector.
According to NFPA, seniors 65 and older and children under the age of 5 are twice as likely to die in a house fire than the general population.