An Aiken neighborhood will sleep a little safer at night after state and local officers installed smoke alarms in nearly 200 homes on Saturday.
The Aiken Department of Public Safety was selected as the first agency in the state to partner with the S.C. State Fire Marshal's Office in a statewide fire safety campaign known as “Right Alarm, Right Location, Right Action.” As part of the campaign, the State Fire Marshal's Office will visit five communities around the state to install smoke alarms in homes, but also to speak with homeowners about a fire escape plan and general fire safety.
Aiken County led the state in fire-related fatalities in 2013 with 10 deaths, according to State Fire Marshal Shane Ray, who was on hand on Saturday to help crews going door-to-door in Kennedy Colony. The neighborhood has seen 10 fires since 2007 that totaled more than $270,000 in damage and loss.
“This community was selected because of its age, how big it is, when it was built and our ability to go canvass it,” Ray said.
Nine employee from Ray's office and about 15 from Aiken Public Safety went door-to-door in Kennedy Colony on Saturday with ladders, drills and smoke alarms. They installed 340 smoke alarms, averaging about three alarms per home.
They installed special 10-year lithium battery alarms that don't require battery changes.
“Once we put them in and activate them, they're good for the life of the smoke alarm,” Ray said of the new devices.
Crews on Saturday disposed of the older smoke alarms, and even put a sticker tag on the new alarm telling the owner to change the device in March 2024. Officials have typically encouraged people to change the batteries in their conventional smoke alarms each year at daylight saving time. Additionally, homeowners are urged to have a smoke alarm in every bedroom of their home, as well as at least one in a common area on each floor of the home.
“Our main message is for everyone to check their smoke alarm, and if it's over 10 years old, replace it,” Ray said.
They also spoke with homeowners about devising and practicing an escape plan in the event of a fire in their home.
“We need them to have their escape plan and practice how to get out,” Ray said. “Fire is fast. Because of the contents and things we have in our homes today, a lot of times we're finding that people underestimate the fire. They think they have time, and the time is very short. If you don't have that second way out, that's where tragedy strikes.”
Kennedy Colony resident Elvira Anthony knew in advance that officers would be coming to her home from flyers that had been placed out around the neighborhood.
“I think it's great. It gives us this extra edge of safety,” she said. “I feel this is something great for older people, like myself, and for everyone that's in the neighborhood and the city to know they have the safety.”
Anthony knew the guidelines regarding changing smoke alarms and the batteries, but said people just don't follow through.
“You know at the change of time, you should check it,” she said. “But you always say, 'I'm gonna do it later, I'm gonna do it later.' Seldom do we all do it.”
Aiken is one of five communities selected to take part in the campaign, joining Roebuck, Greenville, Camden and Great Falls.
“This is a great example of a federal, state and local partnership,” Ray said. “It's a federal Fire Prevention Act grant to purchase the stuff, the state took the initiative to coordinate and utilize local resources to make the installation.”
Crews on Saturday left door hanger tags on the doorknobs of homes where they didn't receive an answer on Saturday.
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard.
Staff photo by Teddy Kulmala From left: Capt. Brian Brazier, Capt. David Turno and Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Shawn Stickle mark a diagram to indicate which homes in Kennedy Colony had been visited on Saturday. The Aiken neighborhood was one of five communities from around the state selected for a statewide fire safety campaign.×
Staff photo by Teddy Kulmala Public Safety Officer Jason Griffin installs a smoke alarm in a Kennedy Colony home on Saturday.×