Thirty years of lifesaving preparedness: Northern Ohio initiative helps Sound the Alarm

By Tim Poe, Red Cross Volunteer

Former Cleveland Mayor Mike White and then CEO of the Greater Cleveland Chapter, Steve D. Bullock

Part of a lifesaving campaign with its roots in Cleveland, 2022’s Sound the Alarm has begun. Over the next few weeks, the American Red Cross, fire departments and other partners will be visiting neighborhoods, with a goal of installing 50,000 smoke alarms, teaching fire safety and helping families develop two-minute escape plans. The smoke alarm installation portion, paused during the pandemic, returns this year.

The idea began in 1992 when 28 Cleveland residents, half of them children, died in home fires. Businessman and philanthropist Sam Miller chose to act. He joined with other civic leaders, the Red Cross and the Cleveland Fire Department to create “Operation Save-A-Life,” installing smoke alarms throughout the city. Thanks to this and other safety initiatives, annual fire fatalities in Cleveland have remained below the 1992 level.

Other regions took note, and the Red Cross’ Home Fire Campaign became national in 2014. Sound the Alarm is part of the effort. Read this article for more on Operation Save-A-Life and Sam Miller, who passed in 2019.

The program has been an astounding success. Since becoming national, Sound the Alarm and the Home Fire Campaign have saved 1,275 lives in the U.S., 402 under the age of 18. That includes 21 in Northern Ohio; 70 statewide. John Gareis, regional manager, Disaster Preparedness, Northern Ohio Region, pointed out that there are countless additional lives saved that we do not even hear about.

It is critical that the campaign continues, as home fires claim seven lives per day, on average, and are the most frequent disaster in the U.S. And sadly, deaths continue, with 45 fire fatalities reported in Ohio so far this year.

Preparation and smoke alarms are effective. When a fire occurs, you have as little as two minutes to escape, so having a plan and a working alarm are critical.

John has been a key part of the campaign since its beginnings in Cleveland, helping it grow into the national effort it is today.

John said, “We are excited to return to in-person smoke-alarm installation this year, along with continuing to provide fire education. Home fires, like other disasters, can happen anywhere, anytime, and Sound the Alarm helps people be ready. So often we see the effects of those who had prepared and those who, unfortunately, did not. Understanding the basics of fire safety, having escape and communication plans, and knowing what to do does save lives. Helping people during disasters is at the heart of the Red Cross mission, and preparation is key.”

Additional volunteers are welcome.

“Sound the Alarm is a meaningful way to be a part of a larger movement while directly helping local families,” said Tim O’Toole, regional disaster officer in Northern Ohio. “In just one day, you could help save a neighbor’s life by installing smoke alarms—which can cut the risk of dying in a home fire by half.”

If you would like to volunteer, donate, request a smoke alarm or receive assistance preparing for a home fire, visit this site.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, Red Cross volunteer

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