Volunteers are going door-to-door this morning to each of the 1,200 homes in the Town of Somerset to offer free smoke alarms and check to see that existing monitors are working.
"One life lost is one too many," when the absence of a working alarm may have prevented a tragedy, said Somerset Town Clerk Rebecca A. Connolly.
"It's very important to me that our residents have the safety equipment they need and that it is working," said Connolly, who has served as town clerk for 24 years.
Connolly said she was moved to spearhead this effort by a number of fatal house fires in Western New York in recent months.
"There was the fatal fire in Ridgeway that killed five last year, then a couple of months later, another fatal fire in Batavia," she recalled. "Then, there was the fire last fall on Bishop Road in Hartland that killed three children. I asked our Town Board if I could pursue this and they gave me the go-ahead."
Connolly purchased 1,500 smoke alarms for $6,100, largely through donations from a handful of local companies.
"We purchased them through DiVal Safety Supplies of Buffalo, which gave us a break on them," said Connolly. "AES Somerset, JT Precision, Evans Insurance Agency and New England Seafood gave us donations, so this cost the town less than $1,000."
Volunteers from the town work force, as well as the Barker Fire Department, Barker Boy Scout Troop 26 and local residents, will help canvass the town, which has been divided into quadrants, Connolly said. Each volunteer will carry identification.
Volunteers will also provide homeowners with information on carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers. The information package will also include an order form to purchase reflective address markers to place near the street in front of a home for better identification for emergency vehicles.
Barker Fire Chief Randy Hildebrant said the volunteers will meet at Barker Fire Hall at 9 a.m. for assignments and, "We'll see how much we can get done today."
There is no official date when the volunteers will set out again. It will depend on the weather and their availability, he added.
A 27-year veteran of the Fire Department, Hildebrant also serves as a fire investigator for Niagara County and remembers the fatal Nov. 3 fire in Hartland.
"It was a hard thing to go there as a firefighter and as a fire investigator," he said. "It's important that we do this [free smoke alarm program] so that this doesn't happen again. When Becky approached me about this program, I jumped right on it."
While he believes the majority of Somerset homes already have smoke detectors, "We still come across some that are not working or just sitting on the counter," he said. "People forget to check them and replace batteries. By going door-to-door, we'll be able to give them two smoke detectors if they need them and ask those homeowners who already have them to check them and make sure they're working or we'll check them for them."
Hildebrant added that while he has heard of other towns providing free smoke alarms, he's not aware of another volunteer effort that offers them door-to-door."
Hartland officials said Friday they are considering a similar program.