Why Snohomish County Sets the Pace in Smoke Alarms

By Gordon Williams

Officially the Red Cross Sound the Alarm campaign starts April 28 with the ambitious goal of installing 100,000 smoke alarms nationwide in homes that lack them.

At the Red Cross chapter serving Snohomish County, however, April 28 is likely to seem just another working day. Volunteers there make installing smoke alarms a yearlong thing. “We do it year-round so there isn’t the panic of trying to get it done in a limited period of time,” says Jamie Gravelle, disaster program manager of the Snohomish County chapter.

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Jamie Gravelle, Snohomish County DPM works in her Everett office

The county lies just north of Seattle. With nearly 800,000 residents, it has the third largest population in Washington, after King County (Seattle) and Pierce County (Tacoma). The chapter, with headquarters in Everett, is one of the seven that make up the Northwest Region of the Red Cross — covering Washington and the Idaho Panhandle.

Red Cross teams had just finished installing 15 smoke alarms on the day I interviewed Gravelle. That brought the number of alarms installed in the county to 1,350 since the start of July. “And there is another stack of forms for smoke alarm installations that I have not counted in my tally,” she says.

The Snohomish chapter will be taking part in Sound the Alarm, which seeks to cut deaths and injuries from fires by outfitting homes with alarms and distributing fire safety information. The chapter’s goal for the campaign is to install another 750 alarms this spring.

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Richard and Kathy Kennard on a routine install

I asked Jamie what makes Snohomish County such a powerhouse in installing smoke alarms. “We were able to put together an awesome team that just takes the program and runs with it,” she says.  “They are just so proactive in going out and looking for targets.” Primary target for smoke alarm installations are mobile home parks and dwellings in low income neighborhoods. Red Cross research has pinpointed both categories of housing as being most in need of working smoke alarms.

In all, Gravelle says at least 80 people from the Snohomish chapter have taken part in smoke alarm installations over the past year. She says that some come for just a single installation while some have taken part in many. “In my experience. everybody loves doing it,” she says.

She does cite several volunteers who are most active in the smoke alarm initiative. She mentions Richard and Kathy Kennard from the town of Snohomish, and Jim Greico. Greico is a former fire chief who now sits in the board of the Snohomish chapter. “Jim came to us and volunteered to help with smoke alarms,” Jamie says “We got him to commit to six months.  Now he has been helping us for 18 months and we are delighted to be able to keep him.”

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The chapter has also partnered with the Gibson family of Gold Bar WA, headed by Gerry and Bonnie Gibson.

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The moment Gerry Gibson and his family installed their 1000th smoke alarm on behalf of the Red Cross!

The family lost a son in a house fire two years ago. They have since founded a family foundation that stresses fire safety and fire prevention issues. “They learned about our program and approached us,” Gravelle says. It ended up with them becoming volunteers.” Jamie can count of as many as eight Gibson family members turning out for smoke alarm installations.

Local firefighters often take part in installations when they aren’t responding to a fire. Jamie says the firefighters get so involved, they have been known to drop everything to fight a fire and then return to the installation when the fire is out.

Jamie Gravelle knows a thing or two about being a Red Cross volunteer. She was one for 10 years before becoming Snohomish County disaster program manager five years ago.

Born in Seattle, she has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and political science from the University of Washington.

Her sights shifted to emergency management early on. While volunteering as a disaster responder for the Red Cross, she was a local emergency manager at the Emergency Services Coordinating Agency (ESCA) — a special purpose government agency which provided emergency management to 10 towns in north King and south Snohomish counties.

She holds a master’s degree in emergency management from American Military University, which offers online studies to those in the military and public safety. Finally, she is certified as an emergency manager by the International Assn of Emergency Managers.

She lives just outside Everett with husband Randy, a middle school teacher.  Sharing their home is dog Sci and cat Res. And, yes, her home is well-equipped with working smoke alarms.

Learn more about our campaign and how to get involved. www.soundthealarm.org

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