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Red Cross takes aim at aging alarms

Disaster program manager Tony Guerra, left, and a delivery truck driver roll hundreds of smoke alarms into the American Red Cross Serving Northern Minnesota headquarters in Duluth. A total of 664 smoke alarms were recently donated to the Red Cross by Enbridge. Submitted photo

The American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota is sending a message to Douglas County residents.

"Check your smoke detectors," said Dan Williams, executive director. "You can pop them off the wall, look on the back of them."

Each should have a date on it.

"If it's more than 10 years old, they absolutely need to be replaced," Williams said.

If there's no date on it, it's more than 20 years old.

Smoke alarms save lives if they are properly installed and maintained. They should be installed on every level of the home and in every sleeping room, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Although vital, the alarms have a limited shelf life. They must be replaced every 10 years.

Residents can get a helping hand from the Red Cross. Organization volunteers will come install free smoke alarms and share additional fire safety information, like the importance of having a family meeting place in case of a fire.

"We're trying to get smoke detectors in every home, on every floor, less than 10 years old," Williams said.

The nonprofit has delayed the rollout of its fall smoke alarm campaign to focus on hurricane relief efforts in areas devastated by Harvey and Irma. But ongoing efforts to install and replace smoke alarms are still underway.

Since July 1, 338 of the devices have been installed in 88 at-risk homes in Superior and Douglas County through the Red Cross' Home Fire Preparedness Campaign, which dates back to 2014.

"Every day of the week we're out doing installations," said Williams, who lives in Superior's South End. "We're still looking to do more."

The nonprofit has specifically targeted Superior and Douglas County because of fatal fires in the area over the last few years.

The Red Cross furnishes many of the smoke alarms and area businesses chip in. Flush from a recent donation of 664 smoke alarms from Enbridge, the Red Cross is seeking Douglas County homes to install them in.

Williams found out how widespread the need is when he helped install alarms in a neighbor's house. Once they were done, he walked down the street to mention the program to others. Within two blocks, he ran into three additional neighbors who needed smoke alarms. They ranged from a young couple to retired folks, all in the middle income bracket.

One home had no working smoke detectors.

"It reminded me of the importance of getting the message out," Williams said.

For years, people have been encouraged to check their smoke alarm batteries twice a year — when the national clocks spring forward and fall behind for daylight savings time. Williams would like folks to add another step, checking the date on the alarms.

He's also hoping that everyone who receives the free smoke alarms will pass on the word to their loved ones about the 10-year shelf life for the devices.

The Red Cross is looking for volunteers interested in helping install alarms, homes to install them in and business partners who want to donate to the cause.

"Many hands make light work," Williams said. "We know we can do more with partners than we can do on our own."

For more information, call (218) 722-0071 or visit