Cal Fire receives grant to give away smoke alarms in Merced County

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comMarch 3, 2014 

Merced County Fire Marshal Hank Moore, left, and Cal Fire’s Capt. John Slate stand amid 5,000 new smoke alarms to be given to county residents.

VICTOR A. PATTON — vpatton@mercedsunstar.com

— The county’s fire department was awarded a grant of more than $200,000, which helped pay for 5,000 new smoke alarms to be given to county residents, the agency announced this week.

The grant also funded three new electronic signs, displayed at the Cal Fire station on Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Merced, the Hilmar station and a portable sign in Los Banos. The signs flash messages about fire prevention and water conservation.

Part of the federal grant paid for fire prevention pamphlets in Spanish, Hmong and English. The grant totaled $236,664; the county contributed about $47,332 out of its fire budget, officials said.

About 1,000 smoke alarms have been handed out, but officials said there’s a shed with more fire alarms ready to be given to residents. To qualify, people have to live in unincorporated parts of the county and have a fire alarm that’s nonoperable or more than 10 years old.

The alarms being given to residents have batteries that last 10 years and technology that prevents them from going off when there is smoke but no flames.

“If one of these fire alarms can save a life, it’s worth it,” said Fire Capt. John Slate, who’s been with the department about 10 years.

Merced County Fire Marshal Hank Moore said his inspections have shown a large number of residents either have missing fire alarms or have removed the batteries from their detectors.

Fifty-two percent of fires that started were inside homes with disconnected fire alarms, he said.

“I always tell people it’s like your sleeping angel,” Moore said. “There’s no excuse for them to not have alarms when we’re giving them away for free.”

Moore said homes should have an alarm inside every bedroom and one in the hallway outside the rooms. For example, a three bedroom home should have at least four alarms. Homes do not need a fire alarm in the kitchen, he said, clearing up a common misconception.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, people should check smoke alarms monthly by pressing the “test” button, never remove the batteries and teach children what the smoke alarm sounds like and what to do when they hear it.

Anyone interested in getting a free smoke alarm should contact the Merced County Fire Department/Cal Fire at (209) 385-7347.

-- Ramona Giwargis

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