Last month, crews from a Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue station in Tualatin conducted what the agency likes to call a "knock-and-talk" in the neighborhood near the intersection of Sagert Street and 68th Avenue. Their purpose: checking to ensure residents' smoke detectors are in working order.
As one might expect from a fire department, TVF&R is big on smoke alarms. An agency spokesman, Stefan Myers, told The Times that smoke alarms provide an important early warning system in case of a fire — but that, as crews saw while visiting residences in Tualatin last month, they are often overlooked or neglected by their owners.
"In quite a few cases when they were walking up, they actually had smoke alarms that were beeping … or in some cases, the smoke alarms had been removed entirely," Myers said.
Lt. Chris Pfeifer, who works at TVF&R Station 34 in Tualatin, said the neighborhood was identified as one where firefighters felt residents could use assistance and education on their smoke alarms.
"We're in there quite a bit for just normal medical emergencies and whatnot, and at times, you can hear the low-battery chirp of smoke detectors," Pfeifer said.
In partnership with the American Red Cross, Station 34 crews contacted 207 residents and installed 49 smoke alarms, according to Pfeifer.
"It had a huge benefit," he said. "It had a huge impact for that neighborhood."
Smoke alarms are important, Myers explained, because they can alert residents to the presence of smoke when they might be otherwise occupied. If a small stove fire starts in somebody's kitchen while they are cooking, or if their sleeve catches on a candle in the dining table or bathroom counter, they can react quickly to douse or stamp out the flames. But many dangerous fires start when people are unaware.
"It's that first line of defense when it comes to fire safety," Myers said. "Whether it's sleeping at night or not being at home at the time, that's going to be your first indicator that there's an emergency."
"When you're asleep, your senses are lessened," said Pfeifer. "I don't know how you would awaken if you were overcome by smoke. The alarm is meant to alert you. So without it, it increases that risk."
Multifamily residences have some unique risks. That's part of the reason TVF&R hosts biannual training sessions for landlords, which Myers noted.
"The decisions of one apartment-owner can affect many people, especially when it comes to fire risk," Myers said.
At these trainings, landlords learn about the importance of having smoke alarms and fire extinguishers at the ready, as well as how to maintain that equipment, among other lessons.
"Really, we're just trying to let them know the important role they play in keeping tenants safe," said Myers.
Myers encourages anyone who is unsure if their smoke alarms are functioning properly to contact TVF&R at 503-649-8577.
"Our crews are happy to come out and check and take a look, because they want to be proactive in making sure people are safe," he said.
"The lower we can make the risk for people, the better off folks will be, and working smoke alarms is certainly one of the ways we can do that," Pfeifer said.
By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times