Local firefighters provide free smoke detectors

“Wake Up Delaware” coordinator Tom Mitten wants a working smoke detector in every single household in the state. If giving away free smoke detectors and replacement batteries is what it takes, so be it.

Every volunteer fire company in the state of Delaware will have someone available from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29, to do just that. Area locations include:

• Bethany Fire Hall
215 Hollywood St.

• Dagsboro Fire Hall
210 Waples St.

• Frankford Fire Hall
7 Main St.

• Millville Fire Hall
316 Atlantic Ave.

• Roxana Fire Hall
35943 Zion Church Rd.

• Selbyville Fire Hall
30 North Main St.

Ray Stevens, immediate past president for the Delaware Volunteer Firemen’s’ Association (DVFA) and a member of the Selbyville Volunteer Fire Company, said there will be someone to help members of the public at each fire hall (although people who stop by a substation may be redirected to the nearest main fire hall).

He also said there is a service available for seniors who are getting a little too shaky to climb up on a stepladder to check their batteries. Upon request, Stevens said the Office of the State Fire Marshal (SFMO) could dispatch someone to install hardwired smoke detectors for those individuals.

Wake Up Delaware started giving away free smoke detectors and batteries in 2002. As Mitten pointed out, they follow along with the biannual “Change Your Clock, Change Your Battery,” dates, when clocks change for Daylight-Saving Time in the spring and fall.

Mitten, a lifetime member of the Elsmere Volunteer Fire Company, actually launched the initiative in the wake of two fires in Sussex County. The first, a house fire in Broadkill on Halloween in 2000, claimed the lives of five people, including three children.

The second, in Oak Orchard (January 2001), claimed 11 lives.

Mitten laid down the hard facts. “As statistics show, fully one-half of all homes don’t have working smoke detectors,” he said. “But what’s even more shocking is this — if you have a fire, even if it’s not a fire of any significant magnitude, it’s still going to produce smoke.

“Smoke can overpower you in less than two minutes,” he pointed out. “So, if you don’t hear that sound (the smoke alarm going off), you don’t get those two minutes, and you die.”

The back-to-back fatal house fires were enough to convince Mitten to do something, and as he worked to organized Wake Up Delaware, he received another reminder. Late one night, in May 2001, his pager went off, and he was dispatched to “a house fire in the area of…” According to Mitten, that typically meant someone nearby had called it in — not the homeowners. But he never imagined it was someone from his own neighborhood.

“It was next door to my house,” he said. “I was out the door in 90 seconds, but two of my neighbors died.

“We have to get people to understand how critically important this is,” Mitten emphasized. “It’s the single most important thing people can do in their homes.”

Wake Up Delaware is entirely self-supported by the Delaware State Fire Service and officially sponsored by the DVFA. The program has distributed 40,000 smoke detectors and 25,000 replacement batteries since 2002.

The Wake Up Delaware giveaway for 2005 is slated for Saturday, Oct. 29, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at every volunteer fire hall in the state.

For more information, visit www.dvfassn.com and scroll all the way down to the “No Batteries, No Survivors — No Reason” logo.