If you’re a homeowner, you might be eligible for free smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, courtesy of a new state program.
Get Alarmed New Hampshire targets households with children under 5 or seniors, in owner-occupied homes in 21 communities statewide.
In Cheshire County, these communities are Keene, Rindge, Troy and Walpole. The program also includes Antrim in Hillsborough County.
The campaign is funded by a $680,320 Federal Emergency Management Agency grant the Office of the State Fire Marshal received last year. The state is one of 110 municipalities and organizations nationwide to receive Fire Prevention and Safety Grants. According to FEMA, the grants fund safety and education measures that target high-risk groups, with the goal of decreasing fire-related deaths and injuries.
From January 2016 to June 2017, New Hampshire had more than 1,500 home fires, according to Get Alarmed New Hampshire. In 115 of those fires, homes had defective or inactive smoke alarms. Also in that time period, there were 931 carbon monoxide investigations related to an alarm going off.
The state identified the communities eligible for detectors and alarms, according to Kevin MacCaffrie, who oversees the grant at the state fire marshal’s office. Qualifying cities and towns, he said, tend to have a combination of characteristics, including older housing stock, a high number of children under 5 or seniors and low-income residents, and more fires per capita. The state approached local fire departments in all 21 communities, and, as of Thursday, had received responses from 14 of them.
In Cheshire County, fire departments in Keene and Rindge had responded, MacCaffrie said, as had the Antrim Fire Department.
Homeowners in eligible communities that don’t respond to the grant can still get free smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms by contacting the state fire marshal’s hotline (see box).
The alarms and detectors will be installed by fire department officers or volunteers, MacCaffrie said. The goal is to install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms in 3,900 homes across the state over the next year and a half. He said communities will receive alarms based on resident demand, but estimated Keene might have about 300 eligible homes.
The program targets homeowners because regulations already dictate that smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms be installed in rentals, MacCaffrie explained.
The alarms and detectors are Bluetooth-enabled, and strobe alarms and bed shakers are available for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing — all free, at about a $300 value, according to Lt. John Bates, fire prevention officer at the Keene Fire Department. He said all alarms have 10-year batteries and are maintenance-free for that time.
Bates said installation typically takes less than an hour, and includes a smoke alarm in every room and a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector in every level of the house.
He stressed the importance of having carbon monoxide detectors at home.
“You can’t smell it; you can’t see it; you can’t taste it. There’s no way to know it’s there unless you have a carbon monoxide monitor,” he said.
Smoke alarms are likewise important, he said.
“Most people don’t have sprinkler systems in their homes, so the only way you’re going to know to get out is to have a smoke alarm,” he said. “And if you don’t have a smoke alarm in every location that talks and communicates, you’re not going to know if there’s a fire alarm in the basement if you’re on the second floor. In today’s construction, today’s furnishing and everything people put in their homes, you have probably less than 5 minutes to get out of the house or you’re going to be in grave danger.”
As of Thursday afternoon, Bates said, 15 Keene homeowners had signed up for the program. He said he will receive the first batch of fire alarms and smoke detectors next week and installation will begin after he gets training Monday.
MacCaffrie said that after the state distributes smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to interested people in the target communities, they will distribute whatever equipment is left to other homeowners across the state.
“We’ll keep passing them out until they’re all out.”