PATERSON, NJ - The potentially life saving work of dozens of volunteers on Saturday proved to be more timely than any of them could have imagined.

Through an effort spearheaded by the American Red Cross of New Jersey, in partnership with the Paterson Fire Department, more than 150 new smoke alarms were installed, for free, in 53 homes in the First Ward. 

Following a short training session at Northside Firehouse, four teams spread out across the neighborhood, knocking on doors and meeting residents, offering not only the new devices but also the manpower to make sure they were working correctly.

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In one home, Chief Brian McDermott told TAPinto Paterson after the event had concluded, volunteers were alerted to the smell of gas, prompting an immediate response from Paterson firefighters that joined the teams.

“An old gas light fixture,” McDermott said, that if not tended to quickly and professionally, could have led to “very tragic consequences.”

The incident, according to the career firefighter, proved again that when it comes to the men and women of the Paterson Fire Department reaching out to the community, “the benefits are endless.”

Offering his common refrain that "the Paterson Fire Department is always well-prepared and well-equipped to respond to any emergency,” McDermott added again that their preference is to “stop fires before they start."

Before they took to the streets the volunteers were reminded that while by the end of the day they’d be “tired and sore” the hours of sweat equity they were investing was worth it because “every smoke alarm installed makes a home safer.”

Rosie Taravella, CEO of the Red Cross’ New Jersey Region, offered even more proof of the success of the five-year-old Home Fire Campaign that has installed over two million fire alarms nationwide, including 41,000 in New Jersey. 

The lifesaving devices, she said, have saved at least 1,640 lives throughout the country, 18 in New Jersey alone.

“Every life matters, that’s why this campaign matters,” Mayor Andre Sayegh said, touting the partnership between the City of Paterson and the American Red Cross, one that less than less than six months ago saw 147 smoke alarms installed in 47 4th Ward homes.

“We know we have the best fire department anywhere,” Sayegh told TAPinto Paterson before adding that by alerting residents to get of a burning structure the alarms mean that responders can tend more quickly to the flames, reducing their own risk in what he called “the most dangerous job in our community.”

In April, Sayegh announced, Paterson will be the “signature city” for the Red Cross’ nationwide Sound the Alarm event, one that Taravella is hoping will see more than 1,500 alarms installed citywide. 

As volunteers approached one of their first homes Shawn Ellis came towards them from the other direction. “My mother and uncle live here,” he told this reporter. “I saw police, fire engines, and red t-shirts and got nervous.”

Informed of the volunteer effort underway he led the team inside where they went to work on installation. Admitting he didn’t know that his family members, both elderly, were living in a home without working fire alarms Ellis gave a short sigh of relief before saying he could now “feel easy knowing they have protection.”

Asked what he would tell his neighbors who opted against the assistance being offered to them Ellis said he would simply ask “why not?”

“We have to be prepared for emergencies at work,” the medical professional said of his job. “Why would we not be prepared at home?”

Just a few doors up the street lifelong resident Jermain Cline stood outside, anxious to have the volunteers visit his home. Though he was confident his smoke alarms were in working order, and they were, he didn’t mind the extra sets of eyes taking a look.

Asked if he knew what to do when the alarms sound, Quashon, 14, wasted no time in saying “get outside.” Pressed further, and specifically what he would do about his video game system that he only stopped playing out of politeness to his guests, the teenager, unfazed, added, “just forget it.” 

Pointing out a handful of firefighters as they scurried into one of the trucks and pulled out of the firehouse Kyle Hughes, president of FMBA Local 2 said “for each of them, and all of us, this is so much more than a job, it’s something we are passionate about.”

“We care about our community and we care about the residents we serve,” he added. “While smoke alarms won’t prevent a fire, they limit the impact, they save lives, that’s why today matters.”

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