Written by Huang Wan ling, Shuli Lo, Roger Kao
Translated by Ariel Chan
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
According to the American Red Cross (ARC), home fires claim seven lives every day, but having working smoke alarms can cut the risk of death by half. That’s why ARC launched the Sound the Alarm program in many parts of the United States, rallying volunteers to install free smoke alarms. On October 1, 2022, Tzu Chi USA accepted ARC’s invitation and co-hosted a Sound the Alarm event in Monterey Park, Los Angeles County, California. Through installing smoke alarms and promoting fire-preventive practices, everyone hoped that families could take prompt action to protect lives should a home fire ignite, helping reduce casualties and financial losses.
Joining Forces to Provide a Vital Public Service
Early in the morning, Tzu Chi USA volunteers and American Red Cross (ARC) personnel set up two tents at the Barnes Park Community Center in Monterey Park. Volunteers and community partners who participated in the event reported one after another. Before the start of the program, volunteers received introductory training courses provided by professionals then formed teams of four, with experienced volunteers leading the newer recruits.
Once they set out into the community, the volunteer teams fanned out and began knocking on doors from house to house. Upon obtaining the consent of the residents, they entered the homes and proceeded with fire alarm installation. For teams within a walking radius, the group of four carried a ladder, tools, and promotional materials and traveled on foot to the addresses provided by the ARC, only returning to the rendezvous point after completing the list. The ARC also designated a car to pick up and drop off groups assigned to homes farther away to expedite the installation plan.
In recent years, crime across California has been an issue; thus, many residents are wary of strangers knocking on their front doors. To relieve any anxiety, the volunteer teams wore tee shirts publicizing their ARC Sound the Alarm mission. They also followed strict regulations and kept communications on point by only inquiring if the smoke alarms in the house were working, if they required replacement, and whether the residents might benefit from additional devices.
After completing the installation work, the teams focused on publicizing the program and public education to help residents understand the importance of home fire prevention practices and remind them that the smoke alarms provided by the ARC are valid for ten years. Overall, the day was a valuable social service, public education, and community partnership opportunity for Tzu Chi USA and the ARC.
Helping Families Make Fire Escape Plans
To illustrate the importance of installing smoke alarms, veteran ARC community volunteer Yahui Lai cited data, including that from 2014 to 2022, 2.4 million smoke alarms were installed in one million households across the United States, saving a total of 1,393 people. Indeed, the Sound the Alarm program protects lives while creating a sense of shared community, and those involved were glad they could be of service.
ARC created the fire prevention plan in partnership with the City of Monterey Park, and the city’s fire department staff helped set up the site and stood by to assist during the day. Steven Gregg, City of Monterey Park Fire Department Chief, expressed the hope that residents could flee danger thanks to the installation of smoke alarms. Upon hearing the piercing siren in case of a fire, they could immediately move to a safe place to await the arrival of firefighters.
“We go to every house, and in addition to installing alarms for them, we also help them make an escape plan,” senior Tzu Chi volunteer David Hoy, who also volunteers with the ARC, explained. “Even if a fire breaks out, they don’t have only one place to escape to; in fact, there will be one, two, three places, all of which are ordinary at normal times but can be used for escaping danger.”
More than 100 volunteers participated in the operation that day, and many young volunteers from different organizations devoted themselves to the installation work. ARC volunteer Courtney Vu, a high school student, found the project meaningful and productive and learned how to install fire alarms. Going from house to house, he would also draw a simple house floor plan for homeowners and tell them the direction of escape, then attach the getaway map to the refrigerator door to remind the family at any time.
Tzu Chi volunteer Yihua Chen was participating in a fire alarm installation service for the first time. He inspected the old smoke detectors and installed new ones, commenting, “This project is of great help to the safety of the community and can protect the lives of residents.” As for the Monterey Park residents who received this service, they were most thankful for the care. “These young people came to my house to help with the installation. I feel safer, and I no longer have to worry about not being able to detect a fire in my home instantly,” Susan Reza, one of the residents, said.
Tzu Chi USA and the American Red Cross have signed a memorandum of cooperation to serve the community and provide emergency relief over time, helping countless families and individuals. On October 1, as required by the event, Tzu Chi volunteers wore the ARC uniform, whose red color represents heightened vigilance. On this day, the red also symbolized the volunteers’ heartfelt enthusiasm for protecting the community’s safety. Everyone worked joyfully, knowing they were delivering security and peace of mind to each household.
Partnerships such as this are cherished at Tzu Chi USA as they expand the scope of how we serve communities. At the same time, your love and support of our missions empower everything we do.