By Lowell Perman, Red Cross volunteer
About five years ago, I was looking for a volunteer opportunity and decided to join the American Red Cross. I went to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and trained for sheltering because there was a call for volunteers before some hurricanes were heading to the state of Texas. I did my training for sheltering. A couple days later I got asked to deploy to Texas, and then it changed very soon because another hurricane came in to Georgia and I ended up going to Georgia and doing a two week deployment in sheltering.
I flew into Atlanta and caught a ride to Macon, Georgia and was deployed there in a warehouse. Waiting to be sent to a shelter and having lunch one day in the back table with other people, I met someone from Georgia that was involved with the Pillowcase Project and since I’m a former educator I was really interested in the project and I never heard of it. So, she explained it to me and when I got back after my deployment I took the training and became a pillowcase instructor.
I’ve always enjoyed presenting the Pillowcase Project to kids and talking about emergencies and home fires and smoke alarms and this leads to my volunteering to help install smoke alarms in my local community as part of Sound the Alarm. The first time I volunteered I was paired with a cable installer from Midco. We went door to door, knocking on doors and asking to come in and check smoke alarms or install them if there weren’t any. It was really exciting for me because I am a public facing type of person and love boots on the ground type of work.
Before we started I told the Midco installer gentleman that we can switch off every other time if he wants and he can do the presentation and I can do the installing. So, after the first one I said do you wanna switch and he said absolutely not – you keep doing the talking and communicating with the people and I’ll do the installing so that really worked. We had a really good day, we made a great organized team and covered a lot of blocks. It was always interesting to talk to people, to meet new people, and it was a really good feeling knowing that I was doing something really good in the community like installing smoke alarms.
What was really interesting and amazing to me was, I believe, about 25% of the smoke alarms that we installed were replacement of ones that had missing pieces or were non-functional or were just too old and didn’t work. So it was actually giving people a false sense of security having smoke alarms in their house that actually didn’t work. So that was a great feeling replacing old smoke alarms.
What was also fun was the little kids that were watching me and asking me ‘what are you doing to our house’ and I would say we’re fixing your house and I would take out one of the smoke alarms and do a little presentation to show them what it sounds like when it goes off by pressing the test button on the smoke alarm and to stay low and get out of the house and stay out if there’s a fire. And I would also talk to them and their family about picking a meeting spot outside to meet in case of a fire emergency at their house.
It was a really fun project. I’ve also been paired with firefighters and that is a fun experience also going door to door. It’s a great feeling to know that you can do something in your local community and you just know that you’re making a difference.
Lowell Perman is a volunteer with the American Red Cross serving Eastern South Dakota, which is part of the American Red Cross Minnesota and Dakotas Region. Sound the Alarm is a critical part of the national Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, which has helped save 1,243 lives, including 25 in our Minnesota and Dakotas region, since launching in October 2014. To volunteer for upcoming smoke alarm installation and home fire prevention activities, including events in Mobridge, SD, and Minot, ND, this May, click here.