10:00 PM PDT on Tuesday, September 20, 2011
The first mobile home that Hemet fire Capt. Bill Herder entered Tuesday morning had a smoke detector that was 40-something years old, had no battery system and was hard-wired into the home's electrical system.
In a matter of weeks, the Hemet Fire Department will replace that unit, and others, at no cost to residents.
On Tuesday, nearly two dozen members of the department, most off duty, visited the Hemet West Mobile Home Park and inspected 83 homes in the 771-unit park, checking for working smoke detectors. Every resident who signed up for the service got the batteries replaced for free, and those with faulty units will get a new device paid for, and installed, by the department.
The funds will come from the Hemet Firefighters Association's charity account, not from the city.
Tuesday's event was part of what the department hopes will be an ongoing tour through the city's numerous mobile home parks, where many of the residents are seniors and are physically unable to fix the devices.
"I think the citizens see a tremendous value in it and appreciate it," Hemet fire Capt. Steve Sandefer said. "This is part of what we do."
Five mobile homes have caught fire this year, according to department call logs.
Firefighters on Tuesday said mobile homes tend to burn quickly and, because they often are close to one another, fire can spread fast. Since older residents may not be able to flee a structure quickly, every second of notice given by a smoke alarm is important.
"It's a mobile home park; they tend to go 'poof!' and you have less than three minutes per house," said Larry Graves, the Hemet West homeowners association president, who helped organize the event. "And we don't want blue-haired ladies on stepladders trying to change batteries."
The department hopes to tie its tour to the months around the spring and fall daylight-saving time changes, which is when many officials recommend changing smoke alarm batteries.
Hemet West resident Sue Howard said one of her detectors was working, but was too quiet to be heard throughout her home. The department will soon replace it, and she is grateful.
"I think this is wonderful," she said. "This is invaluable."