Life saved thanks to smoke alarm installed by American Red Cross and fire dept.

By: Judith Weeks

On December 29, 2019, Nicholas Strohecker was awakened by the screeching sound of a smoke alarm inside his home in Pottsville. It was enough to jar him out of bed and he instinctively ran down the stairs from his second story bedroom and out the door. He didn’t stop to see where the fire was or what set off the alarm. He just knew he had to get out. Once outside, he called 9-1-1. 

While on the phone with dispatchers, he described fire and smoke pouring out of the windows and roof. Minutes later the Pottsville firefighters arrived and put the fire out relatively quickly. 

Nicholas’ home was in the middle of 17 rowhomes and because of his smoke alarm, quick evacuation, and 9-1-1 call, the firefighters were able to save the other homes as well. Eighteen months earlier, in July of 2018, the American Red Cross, in partnership with the Pottsville Fire Department, had canvassed the neighborhood installing smoke alarms. They installed the very smoke alarm that alerted Nicholas to the fire that December night.

All too often, without a working smoke alarm, people cannot get out in time after they are awakened by smoke and flames. Even if the fire department arrives within minutes, it may be too late to save someone, as you can have as little as two minutes to escape a burning home. On average, home fires claim seven lives every day. This is more than deaths from all natural disasters combined in the United States. Having a working smoke alarm can cut the risk of death from a home fire in half. 

In a December 30 email to American Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Matthew Breidenstein, Pottsville Fire Chief James Misstishin said, “This incident is exactly why smoke alarms save lives, and we saved one yesterday.” 

Chief Misstishin praised the American Red Cross Sound the Alarm. Save a Life initiative, part of the organization’s Home Fire Campaign, and wants other fire chiefs in Schuylkill County to know of the partnership opportunity with the Red Cross.  

The American Red Cross partners with fire departments all over the country to install free smoke alarms in homes. Since the program started in 2014, at least 715 lives have been saved thanks to these smoke alarms.

That’s why the American Red Cross is rallying 27,000 volunteers to install 100,000 free smoke alarms nationwide during Sound the Alarm, Save a Life events over a two week period this spring. Volunteers who participate in this program are passionate about community safety and want to make a real difference by hands-on contact with the public to install fire alarms. 

Would you like to participate in this year’s Sound the Alarm campaign and install smoke alarms in your community? Head to and type in your zip code to find the event closest to where you live. Join us in making a difference and helping save lives in your community! 

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