West Newbury family of fire victim gets new smoke alarms from Red Cross

Gwen LaCount, right, shows a photo of her husband James LaCount I with their daughter Micheala as Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Lyndsey Morin looks on at left in West Newbury, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. James LaCount died in a July house fire when he went back into the burning building to retrieve his car keys,

Gwen LaCount, right, shows a photo of her husband James LaCount I with their daughter Micheala as Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Lyndsey Morin looks on at left in West Newbury, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. James LaCount died in a July house fire when he went back into the burning building to retrieve his car keys, "You always think you've got time," said LaCount. "You don't." The Red Cross distributed 40 smoke alarms, seven carbon monoxide alarms and two bed-shaker alarms to 13 households during an installation event for Corinth and surrounding communities on Saturday. Free smoke detectors are available year round through the Red Cross of Northern New England Home Fire Campaign on their website: https://www.redcross.org/local/me-nh-vt/about-us/our-work/home-fire-campaign.html. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

Corinth Volunteer Fire Chief Ed Pospisil takes a call during the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign’s quarterly mini-installation event in East Corinth, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. The department has responded to two fatal fires since the spring of 2021, which helped motivate Pospisil to partner with the Red Cross to offer free smoke alarms to residents in town and in the surrounding communities that the department serves. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Corinth Volunteer Fire Chief Ed Pospisil takes a call during the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign’s quarterly mini-installation event in East Corinth, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. The department has responded to two fatal fires since the spring of 2021, which helped motivate Pospisil to partner with the Red Cross to offer free smoke alarms to residents in town and in the surrounding communities that the department serves. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Lyndsey Morin, Red Cross disaster program manager for southern Vermont, left, discusses locations for two smoke detectors and a carbon monoxide alarm with Victoria Powers, middle, in her Topsham, Vt., home as volunteer Norm Gentry, of Manchester, N.H., right fills out paperwork on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. Corinth Fire Chief Ed Pospisil said he has responded to Powers' home for fires in her woodstove flues in the past. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lyndsey Morin, Red Cross disaster program manager for southern Vermont, left, discusses locations for two smoke detectors and a carbon monoxide alarm with Victoria Powers, middle, in her Topsham, Vt., home as volunteer Norm Gentry, of Manchester, N.H., right fills out paperwork on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. Corinth Fire Chief Ed Pospisil said he has responded to Powers' home for fires in her woodstove flues in the past. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

Since their father James LaCount I was killed in a house fire in July, Micheala LaCount, 21, her brother James LaCount II, 23, center, and their mother Gwen LaCount, not pictured, moved in with Gwen's brother Matt Rice, left, and their parents only steps away from their destroyed trailer home. Lydnsey Morin, Red Cross disaster program manager for Southern Vermont, right, and Corinth Volunteer Firefighter Tim Wilder, second from right, visited the family to install new smoke detectors in the trailer in West Newbury, Vt., as part of a one-day mini-installation for the Red Cross's home fire campaign on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Since their father James LaCount I was killed in a house fire in July, Micheala LaCount, 21, her brother James LaCount II, 23, center, and their mother Gwen LaCount, not pictured, moved in with Gwen's brother Matt Rice, left, and their parents only steps away from their destroyed trailer home. Lydnsey Morin, Red Cross disaster program manager for Southern Vermont, right, and Corinth Volunteer Firefighter Tim Wilder, second from right, visited the family to install new smoke detectors in the trailer in West Newbury, Vt., as part of a one-day mini-installation for the Red Cross's home fire campaign on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Red Cross Volunteer Al Hermsen, of Brookfield, installs a new smoke detector and Gwen LaCount washes dishes at left in the mobile home where her parents and brother live in West Newbury, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. Gwen LaCount and her two adult children have been staying in the trailer since their adjacent mobile home was destroyed in a fire last July and are having difficulty finding new housing. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Red Cross Volunteer Al Hermsen, of Brookfield, installs a new smoke detector and Gwen LaCount washes dishes at left in the mobile home where her parents and brother live in West Newbury, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. Gwen LaCount and her two adult children have been staying in the trailer since their adjacent mobile home was destroyed in a fire last July and are having difficulty finding new housing. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

After feeding their ducks and chickens, Micheala LaCount, left, and her mother Gwen LaCount, second from left, look through the ash of their former home in West Newbury, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023, that burned in July, killing James LaCount, Micheala's father. Red Cross Disaster Program Manager for Southern Vermont, Lyndsey Morin, second from right, and Corinth Volunteer Firefighter Tim Wilder, right, walked with them after installing smoke detectors in the trailer they share with four other family members  just steps away from their destroyed home. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

After feeding their ducks and chickens, Micheala LaCount, left, and her mother Gwen LaCount, second from left, look through the ash of their former home in West Newbury, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023, that burned in July, killing James LaCount, Micheala's father. Red Cross Disaster Program Manager for Southern Vermont, Lyndsey Morin, second from right, and Corinth Volunteer Firefighter Tim Wilder, right, walked with them after installing smoke detectors in the trailer they share with four other family members just steps away from their destroyed home. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

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.

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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 esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.