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If it saves one life

During August, the North Huron Fire Department has been conducting a door-to-door blitz in the East Wawanosh section of the township, with the focus on making sure everyone is protected by smoke detectors, as is required by law. "Those not in compliance with the law when we arrive, will be when we leave," says fire Chief John Black. Thanks to a partnership with Kidde Canada (makers of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors) and Stainton Home Hardware in Wingham, the North Huron department has been able to purchase smoke detectors at a substantial discount and provide them and batteries free of charge to the residents they visit.The reason for choosing the rural area is all about response time, explains Black. A smoke alarm blitz was conducted in Blyth about five years ago, and it's never been done in Wingham. But because of the short response time in both urban centres, firefighters usually arrive promptly. That's not necessarily the case in the rural parts of North Huron. The blitz also offers firefighters the chance to check out water sources and look at the various properties, so they know what they're dealing with should a call come in.Every Monday and Thursday evening, crews have been going out in fire trucks and knocking on doors. Residents are under no obligation to allow the firefighters into their homes, but refusals are rare. Unfortunately, so are homes with up-to-date, working smoke dectors.A recent Thursday evening found Advance-Times editor Pauline Kerr with an invitation to accompany crews heading out with smoke detectors into the section of Auburn covered by the North Huron department. This account is from notes taken that evening:Mind if we check your smoke detectors?7 p.m. – Firefighters arrive at the Blyth station to prepare for the evening's smoke detector blitz. This evening, five trucks are going out, not to battle a devastating blaze, but to hopefully prevent one – or at least to prevent loss of life from a fire.Gathering the material takes quite a bit of effort – there is paperwork that needs to be done for every home visited, "goodie bags" for each home owner (colouring books for children, etc), new Kidde smoke detectors, batteries and tool kits to install detectors. And off they go.The fire truck with "golf crew" Capt. Mike McDonald, Herb Govier and Andy Perry aboard arrives at the first house. They introduce themselves, and the reporter who's along to cover the visits – me. The residents greet them with smiles – a reaction they've been getting throughout the program. Unfortunately, the positive response doesn't tell the whole story. "We've been giving out a lot of smoke detectors," says McDonald.In this case, the residents know about the program, and are pleased to have the firefighters take a look at their smoke detectors. They want the security of knowing they're protected.The crew discovers the detector in the kitchen area is working and up-to-date. But one in another part of the house has no date on it, indicating it's more than 10 years old, and the crew quickly install a new one. They explain detectors over 10 years old should be replaced. While Govier and Perry install the detector, McDonald provides the home owners with information, including the fact the law requires smoke detectors on every level of a home and outside all sleeping areas. The firefighters recommend changing batteries every spring and fall, when the clocks are changed.The people ask about CO2 detectors, and McDonald tells them a good place to install one would be near the furnace. And it wouldn't be a bad idea to have another one by the bedroom.When the crew moves on to the next house, McDonald comments that the visit was typical. "I haven't met anyone not happy to see us. Unfortunately, I haven't had one where we haven't installed a smoke detector."7:35 p.m. – At the house across the road, Mike Bean is busy mowing the lawn but stops to greet McDonald and the crew. He ends up thanking them for the two new smoke detectors.7:50 p.m. – Just down the street, at Gerald and Carol McDowell's home, the smoke detectors are OK – surprise – but the crew installs new batteries to be on the safe side. 8:15 p.m. – As they head on to the next home, McDonald comments on the program. "If there's a house fire in Blyth, we put it out. If there's a house fire in Auburn or out in the country… this is important," he says.House number four has smoke detectors with no date, so they need to be replaced. It's part of a common pattern. Perry says that on their first night of the blitz, they installed eight detectors in four houses.8:25 p.m. – House five had four detectors. Two older ones were replaced, but the two downstairs were new – they were fine.Some people across the road speak with fire chief, and express the wish that they could have their smoke detectors checked. But they live in an area served by another fire department – the boundary runs right down the centre of the road. This is a problem in Auburn, where boundaries meet.9 p.m. – Back at the fire hall in Blyth, Black comments that he's amazed how many detectors they're installing. "It's been the law for six years," he says. The result of this evening's effort brings the total up to about 140. There's a pile of old detectors on the floor at the station – crews bring the old ones back to ensure they aren't going to be used somewhere. There's also a pile of empty Kidde packaging.As the various trucks come back, stories are traded about unusual and sometimes amusing occurrences – an extremely large dog, some interesting hunting trophies, the hazards of putting batteries in your pocket with loose change, running out of smoke detectors, and more. It's been a good evening, with most residents at home and supportive of the program. Plus, the weather was decent and there were no calls to respond to, something that has happened other "blitz" evenings during August.The project is an ambitious one. The plan is to do all of East Wawanosh in August, and they're about half done. They'll keep going into September if necessary, and they'll keep supplying free smoke detectors. It's clear all the firefighters are committed to the project – the most commonly heard comment in the fire hall is, "If it saves one life…"9:48 p.m. – Wouldn't you know it, just as the evening winds to a close, a fire call comes in. Someone had notified the department about a controlled burn earlier, and fortunately, that's what it turns out to be. But the next call might be different, and the presence of working smoke detectors might make the difference between a positive outcome, where everyone gets out safely, and tragedy. If it saves one life…

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