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Published: Thursday, 8/5/2004

LaSalle Township: Firefighters look for gaps in smoke detector coverage

Brian Moyer, left, and Bob Navarre of the LaSalle Township Volunteer Fire Department. Brian Moyer, left, and Bob Navarre of the LaSalle Township Volunteer Fire Department.

LaSALLE - Brian Moyer and Bob Navarre work pretty quietly considering that their work is - as Lt. Moyer describes it - "annoyingly loud."

For most of the last two years, the two LaSalle Township firefighters have been on a "good will tour" of sorts within their community, spending a day or two each week traversing the township looking for homes that might need smoke detectors.

When they find them, thanks to the generosity of local businesses and the tenacity of the two firefighters, the homes are equipped as they should be, free of charge.

"I think we've installed around 140 smoke detectors so far," said Mr. Navarre.

The two men drive around in the township's new grass truck and usually in uniform, approaching homes that might have special needs like those belonging to the elderly or the handicapped, Mr. Navarre said. And so far, the community has welcomed the visits enthusiastically.

"They're loving it. I don't know if they like the free smoke detectors more or the company," Mr. Navarre said. "But the people we've visited so far have been very receptive about the whole program."

Last month, State Farm Insurance gave the two firefighters their biggest donation yet toward their hobby: a $1,000 check that has been used to purchase eight special smoke detectors for those with hearing impairments.

"They have strobe lights and they're very loud - annoyingly loud," Lieutenant Moyer explained. "We put them on night stands or dressers, somewhere that's going to flash that light toward their face as they're sleeping and wake them up."

But this is not a simple program of dropping off free detectors to those that need them, the lieutenant said. Once they find a resident in need of help, the two men put them on a schedule and make a regular visit to check the batteries in the detectors and to check on the residents.

"I bet we've easily changed over a hundred batteries," Lieutenant Moyer said.

Although the fire department's smoke detector program is just 2 years old, it's flown under the radar because of its shoestring budget, Lieutenant Moyer said.

"Bob and I have been soliciting gifts from small businesses in the community for a while. The township board kicked in $200, and the department itself gave us $100," the lieutenant said.

Many area fire departments will pass out free smoke detectors to those that need them and can't otherwise afford the inexpensive lifesavers, which can cost as little as $5 each. Current construction codes call for them to be installed not only on each floor, but in each sleeping area.

Lieutenant Moyer said he and his philanthropic partner would like to expand their program to begin installing carbon monoxide detectors - if they could get additional funding. At this point, however, that remains an unmet goal.

But while the two men's volunteer work is sure to ultimately save the lives of township residents, it's also helped put a personal face on a department that might otherwise only get introduced in a crisis, Mr. Navarre said.

"The community feels like they're back in touch with the fire department," Mr. Navarre said.

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