More than 100 volunteers representing UH, the American Red Cross, HOPE worldwide and the Houston Fire Department gathered together Saturday to serve others in a most uncomfortable way — knocking on a stranger’s door.
The National Fire Protection Association suggests that two-thirds of home fire deaths were in homes with a working smoke alarm. As little as three breaths of toxic smoke can knock out a healthy adult, so a working smoke alarm is important to keep safe 24/7.
With this in mind, volunteers set out to save lives in Northeast Houston.
For the fifth straight year, HFD mapped an area where there were a high number of fires and other socioeconomic characteristics that increase odds of fire occurrence. Previous efforts were focused in Southwest Houston, but the past six months centered in on City Council District H. Groups went door-to-door inside apartment complexes to have in-depth conversations and inform people about smoke alarms, fire escape planning and emergency check-lists.
In four hours, volunteers reached 4,850 households, which translates into an estimated impact on 19,400 Houstonians in an area identified by HFD as being most at-risk for fires.
In a small group led by research professor Larry Hill, they found that many people did not have working alarms. This is commonplace.
When the remote control is low on batteries, when smoke alarms activate while dinner is cooking or when a dying alarm sets off annoying chirps every 10 minutes, people often resort to simply pulling out the system’s battery. This careless act puts people, along with their family, neighbors and firefighters, at risk of injury or even death.
Frank, an 80-year-old great-grandfather, answered the door with an infectious smile. He recognized Hill’s UH gear and proudly told them that he was once a security guard at UH and his children graduated from there. Leaning on his doorframe, he said, “Hey, you know what? I don’t have a working smoke alarm, even though maintenance came by last week. … It’s beautiful you all are out here.”
He was the volunteer group’s last household for the day.
On the Sept. 11 Day of Service, the same partnership in collaboration with the men’s basketball team “conducted the largest mass distribution of smoke alarms in the history of the Houston Fire Department,” said Jack J. Valenti School of Communications alumnus Capt. Ruy Lozano, who is now Public Information Officer at HFD.
Both the MLK and 9/11 Days of Service are in alignment with initiatives from the Corporation for National and Community Service. The UH community partnership answers what Martin Luther King Jr. called “life’s most persistent and urgent question” — What are you doing for others?