In an effort to reduce the risk of serious injuries or deaths caused by home fires, the American Red Cross of Central and Northern Missouri last year began to "adopt" a county each month.
The "Sound the Alarm" campaign highlights free smoke alarm installations and fire safety education.
The county for March will be Miller. Cole will be the county for April, and Boone County in May, said Abigail Anderson, executive director of the local Red Cross chapter.
Each year, the organization works with local health and fire departments to identify high-risk residents across the region and install free smoke alarms in their homes.
In 2018, the chapter installed about 150 alarms in the area. This year, it intends to install more than 800 in central and northeast Missouri.
"We hope to garner even more support next year," Anderson said. "Smoke alarms are an underrated tool. They cut the risk of fatality due to fire in half."
However, she said, there is a strong correlation between low-income families and fire-related incidents involving a lack of working smoke alarms, use of electric heaters for warmth, overloaded electrical outlets or people using ovens to heat their homes.
"We aim to prevent fires from ever happening," Anderson said. "Of course, when they do happen, we're there to respond in a matter of hours."
The organization's goal is to respond within two hours of any incident.
Volunteers are needed in every county to keep response time low, Anderson said.
Before setting out to install smoke alarms, staff meets with firefighters in Jefferson City to undergo training. Then the volunteers fan out in teams of three (all of which include firefighters) to offer and install the devices in pre-identified communities.
Last year's effort focused on mobile homes at a Jefferson City site.
"Each year, we plan to continue to grow the program but also rotate counties that we serve," Anderson said. "(The program) dovetails into our Heroes event."
The Red Cross of Central and Northern Missouri Heroes Dinner is held annually and serves as a signature fundraiser for the organization. During the event, the organization recognizes civilians and emergency personnel for the heroic things they did the previous year. Last year, for example, it recognized then-6-year-old Hudson Patrick, who had raised more than $2,100 operating a lemonade stand and donated the entire amount to the J.J. Watt Hurricane Relief Fund.
"Dinners are great and we love them, but what we really need to do is introduce all the services the Red Cross offers," Anderson said.
So, this year, fundraising has changed to a two-week campaign that will take place in late April and early May. It will include an evening kick-off event April 25. The exact location has not been finalized.
Over the course of the two weeks, there will be events for students, a blood drive and a "Mission Mixer."
Also during late March, the Red Cross will host its Pillowcase Project for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. The project is modeled after a program developed in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina that therapists started for children living in makeshift communities. Those children decorated pillowcases for use as emergency preparedness kits. The project has expanded to educate children on emergency preparedness.