The West Hartford Fire Department wants residents to know that in addition to responding to emergencies, they have many programs to support the safety of the community.
By Ronni Newton
When you think of the fire department, the first image is probably of the big red truck – either on the scene of an emergency or on display for wide-eyed young children during Fire Safety Week. Firefighter Marsha Adell of the Office of Fire Prevention wants everyone to know that the West Hartford Fire Department does a whole lot more.
Adell has worked on the “line” as a member of the West Hartford Fire Department for 14 years, but she can’t do that right now since she is pregnant with twins (due in just a few weeks). The department has provided her with a community outreach position as an accommodation.
Adell has served on several local boards, so the community outreach comes naturally, but through her public relations work for the West Hartford Fire Department she has realized how critical it is for the community to understand exactly what the department does in addition to responding to emergencies and appearing at schools.
“I’ve gotten some grants to support programs that are much-needed in the community,” Adell said.
She worked through Home Depot and Kidde on “Operation Save a Life,” and received more than 100 “ten year” smoke alarms that have been distributed to residents. The modern detectors don’t require a battery change every six months and may make the “change the clocks, change the battery” initiative obsolete someday, she said.
She also worked with a local business owner, Progressive Animal Wellness (PAW), which donated seven pet oxygen masks so that each apparatus can carry one. PAW is based in Avon, but West Hartford resident Dr. Corey Shagensky is medical director.
“I’ve also applied for a $5,000 grant from FM Global for smoke alarms with strobe lights,” Adell said. Adell is hopeful that the department will be a recipient when the grant, which will fund the purchase of approximately 75 strobe light smoke detectors for the deaf and hard of hearing community, is awarded on March 1. “We have to make sure everyone is protected. This is a community that hasn’t always had their needs met completely,” Adell said.
In part because of the presence of the American School for the Deaf in town, West Hartford has a large and vibrant deaf community, Adell said. She has been a speaker at a regular monthly meetings of a group of people with cochlear implants, and has been making them aware of what the fire service can offer.
Adell is most excited about a $2,000 award that the department will be receiving from the Town That Cares Fund. “We will be working with Human and Leisure Services to obtain smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and combination alarms for people who have been identified as financially in need,” Adell said. Pfau’s Hardware will be the vendor. “It’s great for all of the organizations to be working together, and to be working with a family business that has deep roots in the community,” she said.
Adell said that she has also been reaching out to businesss and neighborhood groups to let them know what services the fire department can provide. “We know what our capabilities are, but we need to let the community know. We can have all the smoke alarms in the world but we need to make people aware.”
One service which many may not know about is the department’s special needs registry. It’s not just for one segment of the population, Adell said, but for anyone with limited mobility. “Anyone who feels that if there is an emergency in their space, they would need extra help should be on the registry.” Knowing that they are responding to a resident who is on the registry will help the department be more fully prepared.
The West Hartford Fire Department is also working in conjunction with the Elmwood Senior Center to distribute the “File of Life” to residents. It’s essentially a piece of paper with key information about the resident that gets placed in a plastic sleeve and posted on the refrigerator, she said. The information can be vital to all of the town’s emergency service responders.
“People don’t always see that our fire trucks are more than for emergencies and entertainment for children. They are the place to go for information,” said Adell. Throughout the holidays, firefighters were handing out cards that provided tips about safe lighting and avoidance of winter fires.
“With more education, people are more careful. Of course we also want them to know that we are ready to respond. No one wants loss – of life or property,” said Adell.
She has a few other programs on the radar, such as obtaining a grant for residential lockboxes. The devices, which hold the keys to the building and are activated both electronically and by a “permissive” key kept only on the fire apparatus, are already in many commercial buildings, but she would like to see them in residences of people with special needs. “It gives us access quickly, with minimal damage to the home. Believe me, the fire department can get in anywhere, but can also do plenty of damage doing it,” Adell said.
When she returns from maternity leave, Adell plans to return to the line, fighting fires. “I really love it,” she said. But she won’t stop spreading this message: “We don’t just fight fires.”