Fatal fires prompt Greensburg campaign to distribute free smoke alarms

Nov. 5—Three recent fatal fires in Greensburg have prompted the American Red Cross to partner with local firefighters Saturday to offer free smoke alarms to residents who may not have the means to purchase or install them unaided.

To be included in the smoke alarm distribution, taking place between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., residents must make an appointment. They can call the Red Cross at 833-315-0882 and leave a message including their phone number.

Students from The Kiski School near Saltsburg will help Greensburg firefighters as they deliver alarms or help install ones residents already have as part of the Red Cross "Sound the Alarm, Save a Life" campaign.

"Smoke alarms do save lives," said Greensburg fire Chief Tom Bell. "Fires today burn much hotter and much faster, and every minute counts. Smoke spreads fast, and you need smoke alarms to give you time to get out."

Nearly three of every five household fire deaths have occurred in a home that lacked a smoke alarm or had alarms that were inoperable, Bell said.

Paula Bauerle, a volunteer supervisor with the American Red Cross of Southwestern Pennsylvania, has seen many instances where homeowners may refresh batteries regularly in a smoke alarm, but they don't replace that alarm when it reaches the end of its 10-year useful life.

Bauerle said the alarms the Red Cross will provide Saturday have batteries that will last 10 years but can't be replaced. The alarms will be marked with the date of installation so the homeowner will know when to replace them, she said. Meanwhile, each alarm should be tested monthly.

According to Bell, smoke alarms were damaged too much to tell if they'd been working properly in fatal fires that occurred Oct. 27, in an apartment building in the Meadow View complex on Greensburg's Dornin Street, and Aug. 8, 2022, at the Autumn Brook Apartments, off Luzerne Street. Cooking was the cause of the 2022 fire, Bell said. The cause of the Dornin Street blaze remains to be determined.

An electrical fire Jan. 7 at a home on Jack Street resulted in the hospitalization of the sole occupant, who was rescued by a neighbor, a police officer and a responding firefighter. The occupant later died.

In the Meadow View and Autumn Brook fires, the victims never made it from their apartments.

The window of opportunity to escape from a burning building can be as little as two minutes, according to Bauerle.

When alarms are provided to Greensburg residents on Nov. 11, volunteers also will provide them with information about fire safety.

Bauerle stressed the importance of making an escape plan in the event of a home fire, including settling on a place where household members will meet once they're out of the building.

"Smoke detectors aren't going to do you any good if you don't have a plan to get out," she said.

She recalled a fire where a man reentered a burning home, searching for other family members, and perished — not realizing his loved ones had already safely escaped.

Though the Red Cross does not provide them, Bauerle suggested residents consider investing in an emergency ladder that can be stowed under a bed or in another easily accessible place. If a fire breaks out, it can be used to escape from a second- or third-story window.

Donations made to the Red Cross help the organization purchase smoke alarms for free distributions, Bauerle said. The Greensburg-based Chestnut Ridge chapter of the Red Cross gave away more than 7,400 smoke alarms from the 2016 fiscal year through September.

Each household can request up to four alarms from the Red Cross. Multiple alarms placed in appropriate locations provide the best fire protection, Bauerle said.

Ideally, she said, alarms should be placed near the basement ceiling, inside each bedroom doorway and in a hallway. Sleeping with bedroom doors closed provides another layer of protection, she said.

Bell said residents often make the mistake of placing a smoke alarm too close to a stove, which can lead to unnecessary alarms and emergency responses triggered by burnt food. He suggested placing an alarm in a dining room or other space adjoining a kitchen.

Greensburg residents who are in need and miss out on the distribution can call any city fire station throughout the year to request a smoke alarm, Bell said. Visit gbgfire.com/smoke-alarm-safety for more information.

Bauerle said any area resident in need of an alarm also can reach out to their local Red Cross chapter.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff by email at jhimler@triblive.com or via Twitter .