Misty Starkey was standing outside her Fourth Plain Village house watering plants Saturday morning when she was approached by a group of people wearing red vests.
They asked if she had a working smoke alarm and if she had enough of them in her house.
“I don’t even know what enough is,” she answered.
Starkey let the team inside, where they found only one smoke alarm for the two-bedroom house — and when they tested it they found it didn’t have any batteries.
“We’ll get you taken care of,” Jeff Kuter said.
Kuter and his team, volunteers with the American Red Cross, went to work outfitting the house to make it safe in case of fire. They installed six new smoke alarms in bedrooms, the living room, the hallway and the basement, all free of charge.
The volunteers talked to Starkey’s children about escape routes and knowing their address in case they have to call 911.
“This is awesome,” Starkey said. “We haven’t been prepared at all.”
Starkey said she and her boyfriend moved into the house about a month ago. Between the two of them, they have six children, all of whom can stay at the house at any given time.
“The last thing I want to do is to be asleep and not notice something,” Starkey said.
“Only having one (smoke alarm) in here and it not having a battery in it, that’s kind of a big deal.”
She said she and her family were about to leave to have lunch at Horseshoe Lake when the team arrived.
“I’m glad they caught us before we left,” she said. “It’s a relief. It’s something we don’t have to worry about anymore.”
The event, held in partnership with the Vancouver Fire Marshal’s Fire Corps, sent volunteers to canvass an area of central Vancouver Saturday in an effort to get people more prepared for house fires.
“We look at it as a disaster that affects one family at a time,” said Kyle Henning, disaster program manager for the Vancouver-based chapter of the American Red Cross.
On average, residential fires cause more fatalities in a year than Hurricane Katrina, the 2011 hurricanes and Hurricane Sandy combined.
“We’re trying to get ahead of the game and prevent death and injury by installing smoke alarms,” Henning said.
Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli said that the agency used grant money to purchase the smoke alarms that volunteers installed Saturday.
“The cheapest form of life insurance you can have is to have a working smoke detector in your home,” Scarpelli said.
Cathy Kuter, Jeff’s wife, is a member of the Red Cross disaster relief team that is dispatched to assist people affected by residential fires in the Vancouver area.
She’s seen people in their underwear in below-freezing temperatures with no shoes. She’s seen people in wheelchairs, and scared little kids. She’s seen people as they realize they lost their pets and heard others say, “I’ve lost it all.”
“Hopefully this will keep something like that from happening,” she said. “I really like this program and helping avoid those nighttime calls when people are in distress.”