Emergency team hooks up smoke alarms for seniors

The Burn Institute’s program to save lives by placing free smoke detectors in the homes of seniors officially came to Ramona this past weekend when volunteers installed 64 such devices in 31 mobile homes in Ramona Terrace Estates.

Under the 14-year-old program, homeowners over age 55 are entitled to free smoke detectors if they do not have one that works properly. In a typical year, the Burn Institute will provide 1,500 free smoke alarms, according to its communications director, Diane Sparacino.

One of the 11 volunteers doing the weekend installations was 30-year Ramona resident Mike Obetz, who has been involved in the program for five years, visiting homes all over the county.

“It certainly feels good to finally bring the program home to Ramona,” Obetz said. “We’ve done an installation here and there in Ramona through the years, but this is the first organized effort.”

But it certainly won’t be the last if Obetz and others involved with the Ramona Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) have their way.

The effort at the Ramona Terrace Estates at 1212 H St. was spearheaded by CERT volunteer Dave Smith, who handles security for the over-55 senior mobile home park. He brought it up at a meeting, instigating a signup list of qualified participants, said CERT President Don Scott.

Other park residents, witnessing the weekend installations, have expressed interest so a new list has already begun, Obetz said. He plans to get a similar list going at the Ramona Senior Center and hopes that other mobile home parks and condo complexes in the community will follow suit.

“We could end up installing hundreds of free smoke detectors in Ramona—whatever the need is,” Obetz said. “In the five years since I have been working with seniors, I am amazed at how many don’t have a working smoke detector. I especially remember a gentleman in a wheelchair who was on oxygen—just him and his dog—and he knew that he didn’t have a working smoke detector.”

It is estimated that 30 percent of all homes in San Diego County do not have a working smoke alarm, and in some areas with older homes, that number could be as high as 50 percent, according to information provided by the Burn Institute. Their figures show that 87 percent of all fire deaths occur in the home while the residents are sleeping, but having a working smoke alarm cuts the chances of dying by 50 percent.

Homeowners over 55 may apply for the Senior Smoke Alarm Program by calling the Burn Institute at 858-541-2277. The volunteers who visit the homes inspect and clean existing devices, change batteries if required and install a new alarm if necessary,  “whatever it takes to make sure that all seniors have a working smoke detector,” Obetz said.

“Sometimes a senior has removed a battery to stop the beeping so all that’s needed is a new battery,” Sparacino said. “But codes have changed, so we almost always need to install more than one alarm. For example, codes now call for having an alarm in front of every bedroom.”

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