Van Wert County Foundation Executive Secretary Seth Baker presents a $2,000 check to Wren Fire Chief Jackie Brandt as Van Wert County fire chiefs look on. This money will seed the No Child Sleeps Unprotected program, an effort to make sure there is a smoke detector with a 10-year battery life in the homes of all children grade K-12 in Van Wert County. Scott Fire Chief Jay Klopfenstein was unable to attend the meeting. (Times Bulletin/Lindsay McCoy)
VAN WERT - Van Wert County Firefighters have come together to begin to raise money for the No Child Sleeps Unprotected program. This program will purchase approximately 4,500 smoke alarms, equipped with a 10-year battery life, for all children and young adults in grades K-12 in Van Wert County. This purchase will be done entirely on donated funds, and approximately $60,000 will need to be raised to give a smoke detector to every child in the county.
“It is the first time that the county chiefs have done anything of this magnitude, but it is probably the most important thing we have done,” said Van Wert City Fire Chief Jim Steele. “It is one way to directly impact life safety. All of us have been impacted by fire fatalities some time or another, and in some parts of the county it has been too frequent. Once is too frequent, but there are some areas that have lost four or five people in three years. We want to prevent this from happening.”
Van Wert County Fire Chiefs meet on a monthly basis to talk about common problems and common solutions, and together they came up with a program that would make a life-saving difference in each of their jurisdictions. Similar programs are currently being run in the Northeast.
“I think this is a great opportunity for the villages, city, and county to come together and work for one common goal,” said Convoy Fire Chief Gary Kreischer. “In my career, I have been involved in three fatalities involving children and in two of these situations there were no smoke detectors in the house.”
One issue seen in many fatalities is that homes have a smoke detector but it does not work. The vast majority of homes visited by local fire departments have detectors that are out of date or have batteries that have been removed. That is why the local chiefs felt it was important to purchase detectors that have a ten-year battery life, the same life span of the detector itself. Also, these batteries cannot be removed.
“A parent’s biggest thing is to protect their child, but we often overlook the obvious sometimes,” said Ohio City Fire Chief Brandon Bowen. “It is a very small thing but is overlooked more than it should be. $60,000 to save one person’s life is worth it because you can’t put a price on a life.”
In 2008, Ohio had 184 people die in residential fires, and only 19 percent of these homes had a working smoke alarm. 73 percent of smoke alarms that did not operate at the time of a residential fire had either a dead or missing battery. An operational smoke alarm will increase survivability to 50 percent and decrease damage by a fire in a residence by 92 percent.
No Child Sleeps Unprotected has teamed up with Van Wert Fire Equipment to receive a competitive price on the smoke detectors to make this program possible. According to Chief Steele, the program will live or die on the individual person and their donations. If every person in the county donated $2.50, the program would be completely funded.
All funds donated will be handled by the Van Wert County Foundation, who also donated $2,000 to seed the project. Donations can be mailed to the Van Wert County Foundation at 138 E. Main St., Van Wert, OH 45891. Checks should be made out to County Smoke Detector Fund. The foundation was chosen to collect money because it encompasses the entire county. The ultimate goal is for this program to become self-sustaining, and have the fund remain in place to give every incoming kindergartner a smoke alarm in years to come.
“We have had a lot of fatalities over the last 10-15 years in our territory, many of which were children,” said Wren Fire Chief Jackie Brandt. “By putting these in the home of the children, you are protecting many more people than just the children. It is a large project and a large undertaking, but I think we can raise the funds.”
Each year, there are an estimated 405,000 fires in residential structures which cause nearly 3,600 fatalities, 18,600 injuries, and $4.7 billion in property loss. Given the enormity of the United States fire problem, departments are constantly seeking programs, such as No Child Sleeps Unprotected, that will reduce the number of lives lost and property destroyed by fire.
“A lot of these deaths can be prevented,” said Willshire Fire Chief Dwight Sheets. “This is one of the best projects we have ever come up with in the county, and I hope the residents and corporate people will come together and support us to help save a lot of lives.”
The local departments will be responsible for distributing the smoke detectors to the schools and their children. Chiefs hope to have all detectors purchased and delivered by Oct. 2014 during Fire Prevention Week. All kids living in Van Wert County are eligible, even if their school district is outside of the county.
“This is the cheapest thing you can do to help save a life,” said Middle Point Fire Chief Craig King. “Children are getting a night watchman for ten years and 24/7 because that thing never sleeps.”
Departments will be available to install smoke detectors brought home by their children. King noted that a detector doesn’t do any good on a shelf which has been the case in several fatal fire covered by the department.
“I don’t think anyone goes to bed and thinks about having a fire,” concluded Steele. “Hindsight is always 20/20, and I want to give them foresight with this.”