Hollidaysburg's Phoenix Volunteer Fire Company is spearheading a cooperative effort between 14 fire departments across six counties to make homes safer with free home inspections and smoke alarms.
The "Safe At Home" program will allow Phoenix to buy 3,900 dual-sensor smoke alarms, 150 strobe-light smoke alarms for the hearing impaired as well as other tools to spread the word about fire prevention.
The program is funded through a $183,375 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Mirror photo by Greg Bock
Gary Ziele, a fire extinguisher simulator trainer, shows U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th District, the proper way to put out flames Monday morning at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
"We want to have the smoke detectors in hand by fire prevention week in October," said Phoenix Deputy Chief Mark Slonaker, who added the program will be offered through the participating fire departments by firefighters trained in fire prevention education.
Day care centers, after-school programs, senior citizen groups and schools will be contacted to set up sessions that will include a test of participants' fire safety knowledge, a talk on the subject along with a visual program and handouts.
The training team will also offer free home inspections to check existing smoke detectors and install new ones when needed, Slonaker said.
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th District, was on hand Monday morning at Peoples Natural Gas Field to talk with fire department officials participating in the project. He said volunteer firefighters provide a tremendous service to their communities and work tirelessly not only to answer calls but also to train and raise funds.
"Thank you for what you do in the communities and the efforts you put forth to keep us safe," Shuster said, adding that programs like Safe at Home are important because they ultimately save lives.
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Shuster said after he tested one of seven electronic fire extinguisher simulators to be used in the program.
With a large LED screen that simulates flames, participants in the fire prevention program learn how to properly use a fire extinguisher without real flames, which allows the training to go on indoors, noted Gary Ziele of BullEx, the company that markets the simulators.
Instead of water or foam, the fire extinguishers use lasers so users get the feel of using an extinguisher and can see whether their technique is effective in dousing the flames on the screen.
Longtime Phoenix member and former chief Robert Kerns, recognized around the state as passionate about teaching fire prevention, will be at the center of the effort. He said the most important thing people can do is make sure their smoke detectors are working.
Kerns added that even that's not enough.
"Two ways out," Kerns said. "Have an escape plan and actually do it once or twice a year."
The typical exits may be blocked during a fire and it's critical to have a second route to safety, Kerns said.
Jerry Brant, who along with Tim Longwell, runs the Cambria County-based grant-writing firm Decoplan Associates LLC, said there was stiff competition for the federal grants, with Homeland Security only budgeting $35 million for fire prevention in the entire country.
Forming the consortium of 14 fire companies to get the grant was "a really big plus" in securing the grant from among thousands of other applicants, Brant said.
The other participating departments are Lakemont, Dauntless in Ebensburg, Ashville, Gallitzin, Northern Cambria, Nanty Glo, Portage, Revloc and five departments in Indiana, Allegheny, Luzerne and Westmoreland counties.