How Installing Smoke Alarms became a Family Tradition

 Rob Muszkiewicz
Snohomish County Board Member, Rob Muszkiewicz, on stage at the 2017 Heroes Breakfast.

By Gordon Williams

Edited by Colin Downey

Every family has its traditions – the special things that members do that set the family apart and bind it together. A fast-growing tradition for the Muszkiewicz family of Mukilteo, WA is saving lives by installing smoke alarms in homes that lack them.

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A smoke alarm goes into a Northwest area home

That’s why father Rob Muszkiewicz and sons Brandon, 17, and Carter 12 traveled to a mobile home park in Marysville, WA on a Saturday morning in late April. There they met with other Snohomish County American Red Cross volunteers and placed smoke alarms in a dozen mobile homes that did not have working alarms. Along with the alarms, they also passed out fire safety information – all part of the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign.

The aim of the campaign is to cut home fire deaths by 25% in five years. The latest chapter in the Home Fire Campaign is Sound the Alarm, which will install 100,000 alarms nationwide between April 28 – May 13.

For all their good intentions, the Muszkiewicz men were late getting to that Marysville installation. Father Rob blames an online mapping system that sent them to the wrong location.

“Instead of a mobile home park, we wound up at a development of brand-new homes,” he says. “We knew we were at the wrong place.”

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Sound the Alarm install teams pick up supplies at an April 28 event.

Rob plotted the route again, using Google maps, and that did get them to the right location – just a few minutes late. There they met up with the rest of the team, led by Jamie Gravelle, disaster program manager for the Snohomish County Chapter of the American Red Cross. That is one of the seven chapters that make up the Northwest Region of the Red Cross – serving Washington and the Idaho panhandle.

Sound the Alarm had not quite started when the Snohomish crew did the alarm installations in Marysville. That is because Gravelle makes installing the alarms a year-round exercise. She can do that, she says, because she has a large crew of committed volunteers – the Muszkiewicz’ among them.

Besides his work on the smoke alarm initiative, Rob Muszkiewicz also serves on the board of the Snohomish County chapter, which is based in Everett. An information technology manager with The Boeing Company, Rob joined the Red Cross two years ago as his way of making a contribution to his community. An 18-year veteran with Boeing, he has offices in both Everett and Bellevue. Rob was born near Phoenix AZ but moved to the Seattle area in 2006.

There are three children in the Muszkiewicz family. Daughter Lindsey, 20, is a student at the University of Washington – hoping for a career in graphic design and animation. Son Brandon is a high school senior in Mukilteo and son Carter is in the sixth grade there. The Marysville installation was the third for the family. Over time, the way they tackle the job has evolved.

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Sound the Alarm events are happening all over the Northwest this spring.

The first time, Brandon was busy so Rob and Carter did the installing. “I did most of the work and Carter was my helper,” Rob explains. “He carried stuff in and handed me tools and passed out the fire safety material.”

Both boys were available for the next installation, and this time, they did more of work of taking out old alarms and putting in new ones. “The more alarms we installed, the more we established a rhythm,” says Rob.

That was very evident at the Marysville installation. Rob determined where the new smoke alarms were to go.  Then Brandon and Carter did most of the actual work of putting the new alarms in place, while Rob did the paperwork and passed out the fire safety material. The installation went off flawlessly, Rob says.

With three installations under their belts, joining with other Red Cross volunteers in the Home Fire Campaign has become a Muszkiewicz family tradition – and in Rob’s view a valuable one. “It has taught us a lot about preparedness and fire safety,” he says. “And it has proved to be something that helps bind us together as a family.’

What comes next for the Muszkiewicz family? “We are waiting for the next call to action,” Rob says.

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