Joe and Sarita Sweeney, of Sea Isle, speak with Sea Isle firefighter John Mazurie about smoke alarms during the battery giveaway.

By Maddy Vitale

Sarita and Joe Sweeney strolled into the Sea Isle City Fire Department on Saturday on a simple task.

They were there to pick up vouchers for free batteries.

But the importance of the small errand was monumental.

The Sweeneys would then take the vouchers to a local hardware store to get their free batteries to install in their smoke detectors.

To help keep the community safe, the fire department partnered with Gardner Hardware in Ocean View to distribute vouchers for two free 9-volt smoke detector batteries.

The event, initiated by Police Chief Tom McQuillen, was open to Sea Isle residents and taxpayers from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the fire department headquarters at 233 JFK Boulevard. All people needed to show to get the vouchers was proof of residency or homeownership.

“It is very nice that the department is doing this,” Sarita Sweeney said. “Not only is it important but it is educational.”

“These are the guys who get out of bed to respond when the alarms go off. It is our job as the homeowners to make sure the batteries are good,” Joe Sweeney said.

The Sweeneys, who have lived in Sea Isle full time for a year, but visited from Philadelphia for 17 years before that, said the battery giveaway is part of what makes Sea Isle so special.

“It is small town America,” Joe Sweeney noted. “It has a really good feel.”

Jan O’Rourke, of Sea Isle, says the battery giveaway comes at the perfect time and is a good reminder for her to install new smoke alarm batteries.

Throughout the late morning a stream of people, like the Sweeneys, took advantage of the giveaway. People also asked the firefighters questions about how long smoke detectors last and how often the batteries need to be changed.

In addition to handing out free battery vouchers, firefighters were also available to go to residents’ homes to help them install the batteries or just look at the existing smoke alarms.

“Changing your alarm batteries can seem like such a simple thing to do, but it also can save your life,” said Sea Isle volunteer firefighter John Mazurie. “It is also important to make sure the alarm is still good. They need to be replaced every seven years.”

That was something that had Sea Isle resident Rocky Santarcangelo question the age of his alarms.

Mazurie told him where to look on the alarm for the expiration date.

“How often should I change the batteries?” Santarcangelo asked.

“At least every six months,” Mazurie replied.

Every year, the department goes out to about 150 alarm calls. About 75 percent of the calls are for bad batteries or false alarms, Mazurie explained.

He said the volunteer department, comprised of about 50 members, of which there are 40 active firefighters, thinks the battery giveaway is a great program to benefit the entire community.

“We’d rather do it today instead of when we get called out in the middle of the night for what, thank God, usually turns out to be an old battery,” Mazurie said.

Fire Chief Frank Edwardi emphasized that the program is key to reinforcing to the community the importance of having working smoke alarms. Any help they need with them, firefighters are always available to help, he said.

Sea Isle City Public Information Officer Katherine Custer noted of the program, “This is yet another example of how our fire department is the best volunteer department in the state. We all sleep well at night because of them.”

Jan O’Rourke, another Sea Isle resident on hand for the battery giveaway, walked into the fire department and signed in.

“It is a great idea, and it is smart that it coincides with Daylight Savings Time,” she said of the giveaway.

Assistant Fire Chief Mike Tighe demonstrates the carbon monoxide detector machine firefighters use to gauge the air in homes during alarms.

During the event, firefighters went out on a call to check a homeowner’s carbon monoxide detector.

The homeowner had just put new batteries in the detectors — there were 10 inside the house. The annoying chirping sound was signaling something was wrong.

The detectors were no longer good, officials said.

“We went in to check for carbon monoxide and fortunately didn’t find any,” Assistant Fire Chief Mike Tighe said.

He demonstrated the carbon monoxide detectors the fire department uses to measure the air in homes.

“Everyone should test their detectors,” Tighe urged. “People always need to make sure that they are working.”

Tighe stressed that if it is not a false alarm, people need to get out of the home immediately and stay out.

Tighe, who grew up in Sea Isle, said the island is growing rapidly, making firefighting an ever growing challenge.

“There are a lot of places that are new in town,” he said. “There are a lot of units. It is no longer where you just have single-family homes.”

He added that is all the more reason residents need to be proactive in ensuring that their home has working alarms and other safety precautions. The safer the home, ultimately means, the safer the community, he said.

For more information, call the Sea Isle City Fire Department at (609) 263-4311.

The Sea Isle City Fire Department is located at 233 John F. Kennedy Boulevard.