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updated: 8/29/2011 11:53 AM

Algonquin-Lake in the Hills fire district offering free smoke alarms

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If you live in Algonquin or Lake in the Hills and see a firetruck pull up in front of your house, it might not necessarily be cause for worry.

Firefighters with the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Protection District will begin visiting residents Sept. 1 to provide and install new smoke alarms in households that don't have them, or have alarms that are more than 10 years old, Lt. Erick Kennedy said. The department also will furnish the batteries as part of the "100% Club" program, he said.

Officials plan to visit 60 homes per week and hope to be done within five years, Kennedy said. There are 15,484 homes in the fire district.

Firefighters also check for smoke alarms as they respond to calls and will distribute surveys during school talks, he added.

Last year, 58 percent of the structural fires the district responded to occurred in places that did not have a working smoke alarm, Kennedy said.

According to national statistics, about 20 percent of households don't have working smoke alarms, which usually cost about $5, he said.

There will be an initial startup cost of $1,000 for installation equipment and 120 smoke alarms. The district plans to fund the program with grants, and possibly help from the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Firefighters' Local 3985, Kennedy said.

"It's not going to come entirely from taxpayers," he said.

Kennedy said he had the idea of creating the program while attending public education training in June at the National Fire Academy in Maryland. "They had different presentations, one on smoke alarms, and it just kind of popped into my head," he said.

Assistant Chief of Administration John Gaughan said he thinks the only other communities in the area that have similar programs are the Winnetka and Deerfield-Bannockburn departments.

Fire departments throughout the country have them, too.

Gaughan worked in Winnetka and supervised the program when it was implemented about 10 years ago. "It was time consuming, but it was very successful. It was received very well by the community," he said. "Lt. Kennedy developed the program (in Algonquin-Lake in the Hills) and lo and behold, I had some experience, so I was able to provide some guidance."