560 free smoke alarms available for Austin Fire study

(Frank Martinez / KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Fire Department has been chosen to participate in a research study on how cities can create and better promote smoke alarm installation programs.

It was only one of three chosen across the country including Rochester, N.Y., and Los Angeles, Calif

The three departments were picked because of their commitment to fire prevention and well-established smoke alarm installation programs. Each year, AFD installs more than 2,500 free alarms in homes throughout Austin as part of its community outreach program.

“You know, a lot of times people see the fire truck and think that’s what the fire department does — we go to emergencies when you’re having a really bad day. But behind the scenes is equally as important as our prevention efforts to keep the emergency from ever happening to stop the fire before it starts,” Lt. Sean Coggin said.

The study is being funded by a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The three cities are each receiving 560 free smoke alarms to install. In return, the cities will provide raw smoke alarm data to Johns Hopkins University, including demographics such as the number of senior citizens or children living in the home and if any of the residents are hearing, visually or mobility impaired — as well as how the department promotes smoke alarm programs.

Based on the data collected by the three departments through September 30, 2018, JHU will produce a “lessons learned” guide that will be available to help other fire departments around the country develop and better support similar programs, increasing the presence of smoke alarms in every city and developing a targeted referral program for high-risk families.

“It’s great to have Johns Hopkins University. It’s world renowned, it’s really a great research university,” Lt. Coggin said. “So the fact that we are partnering with them is an honor and then an even greater honor is the fact that if we can take what we build here and pass it on to other cities across the nation, hey, we are doing a good thing.”

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, smoke alarms in homes cut the risk of fire death by half; three out of five fire deaths occur in homes without working fire alarms.  Yet in many neighborhoods, fewer than 40 percent of homes are properly protected.

In Austin, the fire code has been rewritten several times to make sure people stay safe.

“A lot of times we find here in Austin that older homes may have smoke alarms — but how old is it? And I have two or three but is it just in the hallway? Just in the living room?” Lt. Coggin said. “The new fire codes need to have a smoke alarm in every bedroom of your house. People don’t know that the new homes are built that way, but if you live in a home that was built in the 70s it could have 30 to 40-year-old smoke alarms and may or may not work.”

If you or someone you know needs a smoke alarm, call the AFD hotline at (512) 974-0299

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