Fire Authority, Community Agencies Partner to Provide Free Smoke Alarms

Man tests a smoke alarm by pushing the test button.Image Credit: American Red Cross San Diego-Imperial Counties
A volunteer tests a new smoke alarm installed during a recent Sound the Alarm event.

If you are unlikely to install a smoke alarm in your home due to issues with mobility or financial constraints, then you could qualify for a program that will install them for you at no cost. More than a hundred homeowners in the County’s rural areas have already qualified as part of a recent and expanding campaign to equip households with the lifesaving equipment.

Each home could qualify for up to three smoke alarms, and perhaps a carbon monoxide alarm, said Bob Uribe, Community Liaison Coordinator for the San Diego County Fire Authority.  This service for homes in the unincorporated County areas is provided through a partnership between the San Diego County Fire Authority, the American Red Crossthe Burn Institute and the Fire Safe Council of San Diego County.

“I think it’s made a significant difference for those homeowners who have had the alarms installed,” Uribe said. “The program is making smoke alarms available to more people because everybody’s lives are important to us.”

Uribe said the American Red Cross supplies all the smoke alarms, which come with a 10-year lithium battery, to the Burn Institute, and that agency distributes them as needed for the program.

In the rural areas, the Fire Authority also may provide a combination carbon monoxide/smoke alarm with a 10-year lithium battery. Both the Fire Authority and the Fire Safe Council schedule requests from homeowners. The firefighters even install the alarms themselves if they have the time, but they also train community members with the Fire Safe Council to install the alarms.

Firefighters or trained volunteers installing the alarms also take the opportunity to talk to homeowners about other winter and fire prevention recommendations such as not placing a heater near something flammable like curtains, being watchful of food on the stove, and getting fireplaces inspected to make sure they don’t have a build-up that can catch fire inside the chimney.

They also discuss other safety information with homeowners such as having an evacuation plan and meeting place in the event of a fire or other emergency, practicing evacuating, and getting pets used to being crated in case of an evacuation. Uribe said they bring informational material and answer questions.

Melissa Altman, regional preparedness manager for the American Red Cross of San Diego/Imperial Counties, said the national Sound the Alarm program started out in 2014 and locally focused on the San Diego area at first but has now been expanded to the rural areas. The local Red Cross office expects it will exceed its goal of installing 5,800 alarms in the region during this current fiscal year which will end in June.

“We are making a difference,” Altman said. Last May, three smoke alarms were installed in a Bayview mobile home, and in December, a fire sparked in a bedroom. The homeowner and her two adult children were able to safely escape the fire after the beeping smoke alarms alerted them of the fire. Across the nation, 552 lives have been saved because of alarms installed as part of the program, Altman said.

The Burn Institute does specialized outreach to seniors, people age 62 and up, who have mobility or financial issues and maintain records on the program.

“You are 50% more likely to survive a home fire if you have a working smoke alarm in your house,” Altman said.

The local Red Cross will host a Sound the Alarm installation event on Saturday, May 4 in Chula Vista. Sign up online.

To find out if you are qualified for the program, contact the Burn Institute at 1-858-541-2277 or sign up for a free smoke alarm installation at

Fire Authority, Community Agencies Partner to Provide Free Smoke Alarms