Sounding the Alarm in Porterville

Two minutes may be all the time you have to escape a home fire before it’s too late.

That’s why the American Red Cross of the Central Valley partnered with Porterville Fire Department and Tulare County Fire Department on April 30 to Sound the Alarm about home fire safety. The goal of these events are to make sure local families are prepared to get out safely with working smoke alarms — which can cut the risk of dying in a home fire by half. Volunteers set out to install as many smoke alarms as possible, and ended the day with 106 free smoke alarms installed for local families and 48 homes made safer overall.

This was the first Sound the Alarm event Susan and George Reneau participated in. They shared that some homes they went into did not have any smoke alarms in the home. That day, they were able to install 2-3 new, working smoke alarms in those homes. They were glad that they volunteered so that they could help the families be prepared in case a home fire happened.

Sometimes, residents have new or working smoke alarms in their homes. When this is the case, our volunteers will provide information on the causes of home fires, what to do if a fire starts and how to create an escape plan. After the teams returned and the data was collected, their team won the title of Most Homes Made Safer of the day.

Many times throughout her life, Arianna Perez, 19, has been encouraged to attend a Red Cross volunteer event by her dad, Jose Perez. After installing smoke alarms and visiting community members (sometimes longer than the average 20-minutes), she shared her experiences from the day with the event attendees.

“It’s kind of upsetting how little they feel that people care about them. And for us to go into their homes, and make sure that these people are safe, means a lot to them. You can tell it in their eyes. They are glad that somebody is coming up and checking up on them to make sure they are safe, not only them but maybe their partner or their pets, because they may be all alone there. Having a community like ours go in and talk to them and help them out, you can tell that it means a lot to them, as much as it does to us.”

Arianna and her team visited Virginia Colenn and her dog, Grover. Their team installed new smoke alarms and are pictured here showing Viginia how to test them each month. Years before, she chuckled about how she knew her smoke alarms were working “especially when my son would try to cook.” Virginia shared that she uses a walker now because of a tumor that was on her back. Her medical team told her she may never walk again, but at 78 years old, “I showed them… I’m walking.”

Lori Wilson, Executive Director for the Central Valley Chapter, brought her mom along with her to experience the event. She shared, “One of the homes we visited was the home to two people, an adult son and his mother who was an amputee and wheelchair-bound.  They were very happy to see us and quick to show us where their current alarms were located.  Both were original to the mobile home and neither had batteries.  Had they had a fire in that situation, they wouldn’t have had any chance of getting out safely.  They were so appreciative of our service because now they had one last thing to worry about.  We gave them a fighting chance should they experience a fire, and that is why this is so important. 

That moment of realizing what we had just been able to do with only a few minutes of effort is one that I will remember.  When I shared with the rest of the team what I had found, they were all quiet for a moment and then very thankful that they had decided to spend their day going to strangers’ homes to help them be safer.

These are the types of stories we hear at our Sound the Alarm events. Porterville’s event was the first of six across Central California, and we invite you to come to the one nearest you.

Home fires are heartbreakingly common. Together, we can change lives by providing vital support in the aftermath of a fire — and we can save lives by ensuring that families have working smoke alarms and a 2-minute escape plan.

To learn more about how you can protect your family and get involved, visit SoundTheAlarm.org/CentralCalifornia.

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