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South Elgin offers smoke, CO detectors for seniors

South ElgFire Chief Joe Cluchey explains fire district resident Helen Hostman how Knox Box system works. The boxes lock up

South Elgin Fire Chief Joe Cluchey explains to fire district resident Helen Hostman how the Knox Box system works. The boxes lock up an extra house key, which firefighters can get to in case of emergency. | Janelle Walker~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 21, 2014 3:01PM

SOUTH ELGIN — The smoke detectors in Helen Hostman’s home likely hadn’t been replaced since her house was built in 1977.

Firefighters from the South Elgin and Countryside Fire Protection District checked those smoke detectors recently and found they weren’t just old — they were not working.

Hostman, 73, was given new two new smoke and a carbon monoxide detectors for the home off Bowes Road, installed by firefighters.

The South Elgin fire department will do that for any senior resident in the district, added Fire Chief Joe Cluchey.

The need for fire detectors — and help keeping them serviced — was underscored by a recent resident death. Thomas Hasier, 72, of the 100 block of Beck Avenue, died in a house fire on Jan. 8. When firefighters arrived, the home had no working smoke detectors, officials said. Emergency responders were able to get a second, wheelchair-bound resident out of the home.

South Elgin has offered the senior smoke detector program for several years and promotes it on the village’s website and through the newsletter, Cluchey said.

He said he knows that for seniors, getting up onto a chair or ladder to check a smoke detector or put in new batteries can be difficult.

Picking the right one out from a hardware store also can be daunting.

Hostman — the family friend of a South Elgin firefighter — said she never thought about replacing or checking her home’s smoke detectors because she could no longer reach the units in her home.

The ones installed last week don’t just beep when it detects a problem. If the unit senses smoke, it beeps and says “fire.” If the unit detects carbon monoxide, it says “Warning, carbon monoxide.”

The fire department first bought — and got a donation — of smoke detectors after longtime village resident Ed Villella left a memorial to the department after his death.

“The money went to good use,” Cluchey said.

Assistant Chief Bill Sohn said he recently checked his own father’s smoke detectors and learned that four out of four of them were not working.

Smoke detectors should be replaced at least every 10 years and carbon monoxide detectors replaced every four years. The units should not be thrown away, however — they can include radioactive materials. They should be disposed of through the county’s hazardous waste program, Sohn said.

In addition to the smoke detectors, the department also offers residents the Knox Box program in case of emergency.

Instead of having to knock down a door if a resident is sick or injured, the Knox Box — attached to the outside door — locks up the home’s key. Firefighter have a universal key to open the box and can open the house safely, Sohn said.

“We have a lot of programs that we can offer senior citizens,” added Cluchey, who retires from the department at the end of the month.

His department often meets with senior groups and residents to find out their needs and try to address them, Cluchey said.

“We will help with planning for people with physical needs, or who have an adult child with a disability or disease” that may need help in case of emergencies, Cluchey said.

He would rather see residents over-think potential problems and prepare for an emergency, he added.

“It is a lot easier to act early if we can prevent a problem, versus going in to rescue them,” Cluchey said.

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