He Will Never Know How Many Lives He Saved

Patricia Griffiths / Red Cross Cascades Region

Jon Grasle, a Red Cross Cascades volunteer, helps make homes safer by installing free smoke alarms.

With the whir of a screwdriver and chirp of a tested alarm, Jon Grasle wraps up another day’s work. Since 2016, the Portland-based retiree has quietly gone about the business of saving lives by installing free smoke alarms in homes as a volunteer for the Red Cross. The importance of his work cannot be measured.

But, the impact of this work is very tangible, as is evident in Grasle’s recollection of a Portland couple’s story. 

“We had installed smoke alarms in their home,” he said. “Not long afterward, they had a fire. The house was a total loss, but they escaped.”

Because of these and other people who have been saved, Grasle and countless other Red Cross workers make homes safer with smoke alarms and emergency preparedness education. In teams of two or three, they visit every home that has requested help or a safety audit.

“I’ve been to homes that have no smoke alarms,” he said. “That’s scary!”

Sadly, he often sees the other side of the story. Grasle also volunteers as a Red Cross local disaster services worker, helping survivors after home fires. As such, he witnesses the aftermath of home fires, often the result of not having working smoke alarms installed.

“Once, we responded to a fire and the woman was embarrassed that she had had smoke alarms that she had meant to install for two years, but hadn’t,” he said.  “That’s why we install.”

This anecdote underscores the reason the Red Cross is in the “business” of installing smoke alarms. The presence of working smoke alarms in the home cuts the risk of fire-related death in half. Three out of every five deaths occur in homes where there were no smoke alarms or the smoke alarms did not work.

The soft-spoken volunteer would like to send an emphatic message to everyone: “I encourage people to call. Assure them it’s free,” he said. As an added benefit, Grasle explained, people can make sure that those who are close to their hearts but live far away are safe. “It’s a nationwide program. They can call for friends and relatives in other areas.”

To people considering volunteering for the one-day Sound the Alarm event, he also has a message.

“It’s very easy to do and very rewarding,” he said. “We’re giving people a chance to survive.”

In recognition of the contribution of smoke alarms and preparedness to saving lives, the Red Cross started the Home Fire Campaign in 2014, which aims to reduce fire-related deaths and injuries in the U.S. by 25% through fire safety education and free smoke alarm installations.

Every year, the Red Cross drives this home, literally, with the Sound the Alarm single-day event. During this time, volunteers are trained (it only takes 15 minutes) and go out in teams of two to three to install smoke alarms and provide fire and other emergency safety education. 

The Red Cross encourages everyone to examine the status of the smoke alarms at home. Each room should have a smoke alarm that is no more than ten years old. If your home is not adequately protected, or if you would like to assist in making sure other people’s homes are safe, contact the Red Cross.

To request smoke alarms for yourself or someone else, to go: https://www.getasmokealarm.org