Two days, 275 free detectors installed by Manchester fire officials

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MANCHESTER, NH – Humid days shouldn’t be so alarming this time of year, even here in New Hampshire. But whenever the hygrometer reached a certain tipping point – or whenever someone took a hot shower and opened the bathroom door at Matt and Jessie Cawley’s house – it wasn’t unusual to go into panic mode.

Not that they worry so much about relative humidity. But they were tired of the false alarms coming from their five interconnected hard-wired fire detectors.

“They’ve been problematic,” says Matt Cawley, explaining that the alarms had become sensitive to dust and humidity.

With two young sons in the house, Jessie Cawley said the faulty alarm system had to go.

Deputy Fire Chief John Reese installs a new smoke and carbon monoxide detector in a bedroom while homeowner Matt Cawley looks on. Photo/Carol Robidoux

“The alarms all talk to you, but the problem was we didn’t know which one was setting off the system, and you had to run around and check them all. You’d hear, ‘fire, fire,’ but there was no fire,” she says. “We weren’t sure we qualified for the program, because our alarms are only six years old, and we figured there were plenty of people in the city who probably don’t even have alarms. But when we heard about this we decided to call.”

Manchester Fire Marshal Peter Lennon answered the call, and scheduled the Cawleys for an installation. He arrived Saturday at their two-story Leandre Street home with two helpers – Deputy Fire Marshal John Reese and Solomon Rosman, an investigator from the state Fire Marshal’s office – who were ready to install new state-of-the-art Kidde combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the Cawley’s home.

Because the Cawleys’ existing alarms are hard-wired, Reese installed temporary battery-operated alarms and put the Cawleys on the list to have an electrician come out through the state with hard-wired alarms to replace the five they have.

Manchester is one of several cities and towns across the state taking advantage of a federal grant program, Get Alarmed New Hampshire, which allowed for a total of 275 free carbon monoxide and smoke alarms to be installed over two days in owner-occupied homes where children and senior citizens reside. The program is distributed through the NH Department of Safety’s Division of Fire Safety. Lennon says they will be doing another round of installations in August, and are taking names now.

“Anyone interested should call us,” he says. Click here to learn more about the program and see if you qualify.

The state-of-the-art alarms create an interconnected safety system. Photo/Carol Robidoux

“We were identified as a community in need because we’ve had a number of fires involving fatalities,” Lennon says. “The grant allows us to bring more homes up to code. A lot of these houses were built before smoke alarms, so we’re working to identify as many homes as possible that either don’t have alarms or that need upgrades. We’ve actually seen alarms from the 1970s.”

Solomon said the average house requires five to six combination detectors – one for each level and in every bedroom. During this two-day installation blitz the city’s five installation teams reached 60 homes and put in 275 free detectors with an average value per home of $500.

“We were waiting for these alarms to be available, it’s state-of-the-art technology,” says Lennon. “They’re app-friendly and they sync with your phone so you can monitor them even when you’re not at home.”

For those who don’t qualify for the free detector installation program, the detectors are readily available at hardware stores, simple to install and relatively inexpensive, says Reese. “If you have hard-wired alarms in your home you just have to take a look at what kind of plug it has before you buy the replacements.”

Future Manchester firefighters Paddy Cawley, 7, left, and Isaac Cawley, 4, get a photo op with city Fire Marshal Peter Lennon. Photo/Carol Robidoux

The Cawley’s home was the first one they had encountered with hard-wired alarms, but it will be no problem to get an electrician out to complete the installation. There are also special alarms available for those with hearing impairments that shake the bed or have strobe lights.

Lennon says the ultimate goal would be to make sure every home in the city is wired for emergencies, and he’s hoping more people will participate in the next round of Get Alarmed NH detector installations. “Just call our office and we’ll put you on the list if you qualify,” he says.

Jessie Cawley told Lennon about an elderly neighbor who she thought should have her home checked, just to make sure she’s safe. 

“We just want to be sure she had a working alarm in the house,” she says.

The program is available in all cities and towns across the state. If you live in an owner-occupied home, have children under the age of 6, or include residents age 59 or older, contact the NH State Fire Marshal’s Office at 866-989-3771, or visit this link to get on the list.

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Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!