Smoke Alarm Program

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I am always looking for good examples of how a department has made an impact on their community regarding Community Risk Reduction. I’d like to highlight the Smoke Alarm Program of Henrico County (VA) Division of Fire as an example we can all look to for ideas. First of all, every department and community has its own needs and abilities. This is where Henrico County (VA) Division of Fire provides a great example. They recognized the need in their community, partnered with other agencies, and came up with a plan to move forward.

Identifying the Risk and Community Partners

The first step to reducing the risk in a community is identifying that risk. A risk assessment was performed and one of the items of that assessment was a lack of residential smoke alarms. A group was assembled consisting of multiple organizations. Take a look at the groups involved, very impressive and diverse!

By including all of these groups, it automatically entrenches them in the cause. Getting the support of this many groups is a lesson we should all learn. This group attempted to look at funding, support, and how best to prioritize the work. Captain Joe Powers, one of the people leading these efforts, does a good job of explaining the process of prioritizing the work.

“The program’s risk assessment is data-driven and was developed in collaboration with multiple agencies in the community.  Agencies such as Mental Health, Social Services, Advocates for the Aging, Police, Henrico IT, Henrico GIS, the American Red Cross, and more came together to identify data sets.  The 2017 risk assessment identified 3,243 single family homes that included elements such as:

  • 46% – Risk Assessment Homes with Air Conditioning
  • 1423 – Average Square Feet
  • 1951 – Median Build Date
  • $108,700 – Median Home Value

As of December 31, 2017… the risk assessment was 79% reliable in identifying homes without working smoke alarms.

You read that correctly, 79% reliable in predicting which homes lacked a working smoke alarm. That is incredible that they were able to do that with existing data.

Needed Tools

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Due to their planning process, they a identified a need to accurately record the work being performed. Again, the talents of other groups were utilized for this. The County IT Department was asked to assist by coming up with a way to accomplish this. Thier program utilizes mobile platforms through their CAD system to assign the work that needs to be done and track all of the installations. Currently, they have a goal of installing a smoke alarm within 4 hours of receiving a request. They aren’t quite achieving that goal 100% currently, but give them a little time, I’m sure they will be there.

Accomplishing the Plan

It’s one thing to make a plan, at times it’s another to execute it. Through multiple donations and the Henrico Firefighter Foundation, 1,100, 10-year smoke alarms were initially procured to be installed. June 1, 2017, light-duty firefighters and suppression crews began visiting the homes identified in the risk assessment. Again in the words of Captain Joe Powers.

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“Our folks are more than willing to spend the time in the community installing smoke alarms when the program shows efficiency and they don’t feel they are wasting time with a meaningless task.  One of our guys said yesterday, “This is the best-kept secret in the department!”  We essentially give them a Toughbook, car, radio, and the rest is up to them.  They self-assign addresses and choose the communities they want to work.  We receive weekly and monthly reports to measure performance and review it with the crews.”

I highlighted what may be the biggest lesson for us all to learn. To be engaged in a worthwhile cause is what we desire. We do not like to do something we perceive as meaningless. If we are to engage this type of work, we must do the required groundwork by prioritizing the work, explaining the need for the work, and providing the proper tools to accomplish the work. To not include these steps in the process causes confusion and lack of importance to the work. Unfortunately, there are only two outcomes here, decreased productivity or downright failure.

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Look for Examples

When you are preparing to start a Community Risk Reduction program or process, look to others as examples. There are many examples of successful programs. Sometimes, we need to to be the first to do something. Most of the time, someone else has already done it. Learn from those who have done it. There is always room for improvement and we can typically adapt what others have done to fit our needs. If your Risk Assessment identified the need for a smoke alarm program, I encourage you to reach out to Captain Joe Powers at and the Henrico County (VA) Division of Fire.

Brent Faulkner is a founding member of MBIntel and now serves as its CEO. He has 20 years of experience in the fire service. During this time, he has responded to numerous emergency situations including structure fires, wildland fires, hazardous materials responses, emergency medical situations, and numerous types of rescues. In addition, he has served on a Type 1 Hazardous Materials Response Team for 14 years.
Brent had a defining moment in his career which, as a result, lead him to MBIntel and his passion for Community Risk Reduction. He lead a team in critical infrastructure protection at a recognized Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Terrorism Fusion Center. This team was responsible for increasing the safety of critical infrastructure as it relates to terrorism, general security, and natural disasters. He also specializes in emergency preparedness for homeowners and businesses. He has a master’s degree in management, a bachelor’s degree in occupational studies, an associate’s degree in hazardous materials response, and another in fire science.