Sam Miller’s generosity touched many lives in Cleveland and across the country

Fatal fires in Cleveland prompted beloved philanthropist to start free smoke alarm program

By Jim McIntyre, American Red Cross

sam miller

Red Cross file photo

March 8, 2019 – Something had to be done.

That was the sentiment in 1992, when 28 people died in home fires in the city of Cleveland.  Half of the victims were children.

Sam Miller did that “something.”  Angered by the deaths, especially the loss of children, he partnered with the city of Cleveland and the American Red Cross to help establish an initiative to install smoke alarms in homes throughout the city.  It was called “Operation Save-A-Life,” and the effort had the desired effect; fire fatalities in the city of Cleveland plummeted.

Mr. Miller died on March 7.  He was 97 years old.

“The Northeast Ohio Community has lost an icon of caring, compassion and concern for his fellow man and his community,” said Tim O’Toole, Regional Disaster officer for the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio, and a former Assistant Fire Chief for the city of Cleveland. “Sam Miller was involved in many public safety initiatives over the years, but none more impactful than the Operation-Save-A-Life program he founded here in 1992.  This program has improved the safety of tens of thousands of residents in Northeast Ohio, and is now the model for the National Red Cross Home Fire Campaign.”

Since 2014, when the Red Cross started its Home Fire Campaign by installing smoke alarms, replacing batteries, and helping create home fire escape plans in homes across the country, more than 520 lives have been saved due directly to the efforts of Red Cross volunteers and partners.

“We are grateful for the passion Sam Miller had for saving the lives of the most vulnerable people in the city of Cleveland,” said Mike Parks, Regional CEO of the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio.  “That passion led to the effort that the American Red Cross continues to this day, and will no doubt save more lives in the future. Sam Miller’s contributions to the Red Cross will be felt for many years to come.”

This spring, the Red Cross will launch Sound the Alarm, a nationwide initiative to save lives by installing 100,000 smoke alarms in homes throughout the country from April 27 through May 12.

Sam Miller continued to support the Red Cross for years.  He served on the Board of Directors of the Greater Cleveland Chapter beginning in 1998, providing valued leadership and donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Red Cross’ lifesaving mission.  Following his tenure on the board, he was named Co-Chairman Emeritus.

“The impact of Mr. Miller’s initial donation for the residents of the city of Cleveland is now being felt nationwide by hundreds of thousands of people,” said Tim O’Toole.  “While his passing is a significant loss, it is outmatched by his legacy of community spirit that will live on for decades.”

To volunteer to install smoke alarms during Sound the Alarm this spring, visit



Operation Save-a-Life installs the 150,000th Smoke Alarm in Cleveland

It began in 1992, when five children died in a home fire. For Cleveland businessman, Sam Miller, those deaths were a wake-up call for change. The city had been experiencing 30-40 fire-related deaths each year.

That morning he called city leaders and the American Red Cross and soon the structure of Operation Save-a-Life began to take shape.

On December 19, 2014 the 150,000th smoke alarm was installed in the Erickson’s home on the west side of Cleveland.

“It is appropriate that this the home of five beautiful children,” said Sam Miller, who was in attendance at the installation, “as it was five deaths that were the catalyst for the creation of this life-saving program.”

Smoke alarms are integral in decreasing fire-related deaths. Experts agree that a family may have as few as two minutes to exit a burning home. Without the warning of a smoke alarm, the odds of getting out are severely lessened. To learn more about fire safety for your home, visit

In part to the efforts of Operation Save-a-Life, Cleveland has seen a continual drop in fire fatalities, which are at the lowest level in the past 100 years. So far, in 2014, there have been three.

“This program is one of our proudest achievements,” said Mary-Alice Frank, CEO for the Northeast Ohio Region, said to those gathered at the installation. Leaning down and handing the ceremonial gold smoke alarm to one of the Erickson children, she added, “May you know the sound that this alarm makes, but never have to hear it in an emergency.”

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Operation Save-A-Life is currently available to residents in Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, Euclid, and South Euclid. The alarms are free, which is made possible through the donations of community members and local businesses, and are installed by the Cleveland Fire Department. Interested community members are encouraged to call their city’s contact number for further information:

Cleveland – (216) 361-5535

Cleveland Heights – (216) 291-2291

Euclid – (216) 289-8425

South Euclid – (216) 691-4273

For more details contact John Gareis at