West Newbury family of fire victim gets new smoke alarms from Red Cross
|Published: 10-30-2023 8:51 AM
WEST NEWBURY — Over his decades as a firefighter, Corinth Fire Chief Ed Pospisil has noticed a shift in how fast it takes for a fire to consume a structure.
“Years ago, 10, 15 years ago — even further than that — you’d have enough time to get out. Fifteen, 17 minutes,” Pospisil said in a phone interview this week. “Today, with all the synthetics and furniture, you’ve got to get out quick.”
That’s one of the reasons last Saturday’s collaboration between the Corinth Volunteer Fire Department and the Northern New England branch of the American Red Cross to install free smoke detectors was so important. Another was that it came following the death of a West Newbury resident, James LaCount, 77, in a house fire last July. After he exited the manufactured home where he was living with his wife, Gwen LaCount, and two adult children, LaCount went back in to get his car keys and never emerged.
After the fire that destroyed their home, Gwen LaCount and her two children moved into a neighboring manufactured home where her mother, father and brother live. On Saturday, Red Cross volunteers and members of the Corinth Volunteer Fire Department installed two smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors at the home.
“We hadn’t had a really good one in here for several years, and I was very happy to have them put them in,” Gwen LaCount’s mother, Sharon Rice, said in a phone interview this week.
LaCount and her children are staying with their family members until they can find a new place to live.
“That, too, will have the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide ones,” Rice said of the planned new home. LaCount “was saying that she was going to make sure she had those in there, because it was a pretty scary affair.”
Over the course of Saturday, volunteers installed 40 smoke alarms, seven carbon monoxide alarms and two bed shaker alarms in 13 homes in Corinth and surrounding communities, including West Newbury, according to Jennifer Costa, regional communications director for the Red Cross of Northern New England.
The Red Cross provides the smoke detectors and installations at no cost to residents. The organization relies on donations to cover the $21 cost of the smoke detectors and installations, and the $250 cost of the bed shakers — which are smoke alarms for people who are hard of hearing.
“Our team will go in and take a look at what you currently have and test smoke alarms and replace any that aren’t working, not in the proper spot or older than 10 years because smoke alarms do expire after 10 years,” Costa said in a phone interview this week.
The work takes on even more urgency this time of year at the start of home heating season.
“Unfortunately, home fires tend to spike around now,” Costa said, adding that house fires are the most frequent disaster the Red Cross responds to in New England. The Red Cross has responded to 65 home fires in Vermont so far this year and assisted 242 people.
“Our goal is to get working smoke alarms into as many homes as possible,” Costa said.
Red Cross officials work with area fire departments to determine which residents are most in need. While there is no income requirement, the Red Cross tends to serve more vulnerable communities, including older adults who might have difficulties installing the smoke alarms themselves.
The smoke alarms in Corinth were part of 173 that the Red Cross has distributed and help install throughout Vermont this year.
“This is offered to anyone,” Costa said. “Working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in a house fire by half.”
Pospisil welcomed the partnership with the Red Cross and said that he hopes to continue to work with the organization.
“Now I just got to do a better job of finding out who doesn’t have them at Town Meeting in March,” he said. “I’d like to have the whole town have them.”
Rice, too, encouraged residents to reach out to the Red Cross to assist them with smoke detectors.
“I never thought I’d see my daughter become a widow, and it’s just been a very hard thing,” she said. “We had no idea that anything like this could happen, so it’s just important to do it.”
For more information about the Red Cross smoke detector installation program, visit redcross.org/EndHomeFiresNNE.
Liz Sauchelli can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3221.