FREDERICKTOWN — When firefighters arrived at Colonial Village mobile home park in Fredericktown on a recent Saturday morning and began knocking on doors, they were there to prevent an emergency, not respond to one.
After a trailer fire last month killed 45-year-old Richard Wolff, many of the park’s residents were shaken. Firefighters who responded to the fire wanted to reach out to those residents and help them improve the safety of their homes.
The Fredericktown Community Fire District Board purchased several smoke detectors for the department to distribute to residents who need them.
Going door to door, firefighters passed out leaflets explaining the lifesaving role smoke detectors play in a fire, that of giving early warning to residents and allowing them to get out of a fire alive.
Along with the literature, firefighters carried boxes of new smoke detectors and tools to install the detectors.
Just feet away from where Wolff’s trailer remained a boarded up reminder of how destructive and devastating a trailer fire can be, firefighters stopped to talk with residents and answer questions about smoke detectors and fire prevention.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about [fire safety],” said park resident Mary Ervin looking down the road toward the fire-damaged trailer. “I thought about it before that man down there perished, but now ...”
Firefighters found that Ervin and her husband, Marvin, did have smoke detectors, but one was not functioning properly.
“We hung one new one because one of the hardwired detectors was no longer working,” explained Assistant Fire Chief Dwayne Canter.
“I know you’re supposed to check them, but I didn’t know how,” admitted Ervin.
Using smoke detectors appropriately is as important as having them in the first place, according to Fire Chief Scott Mast.
“We’ve noticed in some recent fires that smoke detectors have been present but they’ve been disabled or improperly installed,” Mast said.
The chief said few of the homes with fires recently had working smoke detectors.
“The batteries were dead in one, one was full of dust, and some of them weren’t in the appropriate position to be able to detect smoke,” Mast said. “And some homes didn’t have them at all.”
Firefighters put fresh batteries in many detectors already installed in some of the mobile homes. Many of the residents did not realize their detectors were not working because they had not tested them.
Park manager Marj Shirkey said she was grateful firefighters were making the effort to talk with the park residents and help them install the detectors.
“We have a number of elderly residents here that maybe financially can’t buy them,” she said. “It’s very helpful.”
Mast said one reason for the smoke detector giveaway at the mobile home park is the deadly nature of mobile home fires.
“Mobile homes are statistically twice as deadly as fires in other types of structures because of many factors, including the reduced number of exits, the type of building materials used in some mobile homes, and the smaller area where the heat is more contained,” he explained.
Mast said firefighters knocked on every door in the park, talking with as many residents as possible. Twenty-five percent of the homes needed new detectors, or batteries for existing detectors. Twenty-five new detectors were installed.
Firefighters then took their campaign to some apartments in the village, continuing to check detectors for residents, and installing them where necessary.
Mast said he was surprised how many residents did not have working detectors.
“I was surprised at the need, but happy we were able to help out,” he said. “We’re always looking for opportunities to talk to people in our community about fire safety and the importance of smoke detectors.”
The chief said he was grateful the fire board funded the campaign.
“Mount Vernon Electric sold them to us at cost, which helped the funding go even further,” Mast said.
He said the day spent installing smoke detectors for residents in the mobile home park was a great step in the department’s commitment to ensuring every home has working smoke detectors.
“This is something we definitely are going to continue doing,” Mast said.
Residents of the Fredericktown Fire District who need a smoke detector, or have questions about fire prevention, can call the department at 694-9701 to speak with a firefighter or leave a message.