Aberdeen/Hoquiam partnering with Red Cross for fire safety

Smoke detectors give residents vital, lifesaving seconds to evacuate

In an effort to combat the risk posed by residential fires, the American Red Cross has designated Aberdeen and Hoquiam signature cities and will be providing smoke alarms at no cost to residents on several upcoming weekends.

The fire departments and Red Cross are seeking volunteers to assist with the canvassing effort and the installation, which will take place on Oct. 14 and 21.

“The home fire risk is significant in the area,” said Dan Wirth, executive director of the Olympic Peninsula and South Puget Sound chapter of the Red Cross. “We’ve identified some key areas where we want to focus our efforts.”

High fire risk and good partnerships with local departments made the area a logical choice for the program, which has been operating since 2014, Wirth said.

“We have a great partnership with the fire department in Aberdeen, and throughout Grays Harbor. That is a determining factor,” Wirth said. “We can do it on our own but it’s much more effective if we’re working with our fire department partners.”

Last year, the program went to Yakima. This year, they’re targeting the west Aberdeen/east Hoquiam area, said Mitch Housden, fire services specialist with the Aberdeen Fire Department.

“We’re trying to get 500 homes, is the target,” Housden said. “The more volunteers we get, the more successful this campaign can be.”

Lifesaving measures

Smoke detectors are an essential part of the home these days, Housden said. Changes in construction and materials mean houses burn much faster than they used to.

“Years ago, you had about 15 minutes to get out of a home. Now we’re down to about 3 to 5,” Housden said. “Any help in alerting you there’s a problem before it’s too late gives you time to escape.”

The county has seen a spate of houses laid to ruin by fire over the last several weeks as residents kick heating systems back on.

“We’re thanking the Red Cross for being part of this and making homes in our area safer,” Housden said. “We’re the second behind Yakima, most prone for house fires in the state. The fact that they’re coming here is a huge impact for us.”

David James, an Aberdeen resident, talked about how a smoke detector the Aberdeen Fire Department installed a few years ago likely saved his life.

“They were walking up and down the street,” James said. “They put a smoke detector in my room and one on the wall back there, in the laundry room.”

An appliance malfunction started a fire while he was asleep in a 2021 incident, months after the fire department installed smoke detectors in his home at no cost.

“About 3:30 in the morning, a Saturday going into Sunday, I looked on the floor next to my bed and there was fire in five places,” James said. “I don’t think I would have woke up if not for that smoke detector.”

James said he called the fire department after extinguishing the fire to thank them for likely saving his life with the smoke detector.

“You’re probably gonna not wake up if it happens, from the carbon monoxide. The smoke is what kills you,” James said. “If you can’t get (a smoke detector) for free, go buy one.”

The smoke detector installations are funded through donations to the Red Cross, Wirth said, with one goal.

“To make home safer,” Wirth said. “To give folks the tools they need to stay safe from home fires.”

The Red Cross and fire departments are still seeking volunteers to help with canvassing and installation efforts, no experience needed, Housden said. Those interested in helping out should sign up at the Red Cross Northwest website or email afss@aberdeenwa.gov.

Contact Senior Reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@thedailyworld.com.