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Volunteers spread fire safety message as part of MLK Day of Service

Fire Chief Dan Curia addresses the volunteers before they head out.
Fire Chief Dan Curia addresses the volunteers before they head out.
Dan Holly

DURHAM, N.C. – Nicole Taybron interrupted two volunteers when they came to her apartment door on Saturday to offer fire safety tips – but not because she didn’t want to hear what they had to say. On the contrary, she was bubbling over with appreciation.

“We have a lot of fires with people smoking and falling asleep,” she said. “I’ve had something like that happen to me – I put something on the stove and fell asleep, and the Lord woke me up before it caused a fire. There was smoke coming out of the pot.”

When a volunteer joked that Taybron didn’t need to be persuaded of fire safety’s importance, she disagreed: “It’s good to get this wake-up call because these kinds of activities are happening.”

Not all residents were as enthusiastic as Taybron when volunteers fanned out across the City of Durham on Saturday to offer fire safety and prevention tips as part of the annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “Day of Service.” But the volunteers were generally well received as they knocked on doors, talked with residents, distributed fliers and arranged for free smoke detectors.

The event, which was sponsored by the Triangle chapter of Hope-Worldwide (Based at Triangle Church in Chapel Hill) along with the Triangle Area Chapter of the American Red Cross, began early Saturday when almost 100 volunteers crowded into a Red Cross conference room. After slipping on bright yellow T-shirts, munching on pastries and sipping coffee, the volunteers heard pep talks from Beth Walden, the Red Cross’ regional training coordinator, and Daniel Curia, Durham Fire Department chief.

The neighborhoods selected for the canvassing had the most fire activity in the city, Walden explained. Curia noted that the city has only one employee dedicated to fire safety and said the annual canvassing efforts were crucial.

“One of the things that keeps me up at night is how to create a more fire-safe Durham,” Curia said. “What I know is that the Durham Fire Department cannot do it alone. …You do more in one day to deliver the message than we can do in an entire year.”

Curia also told the volunteers that their work helped advance King’s dream: “He said that, ‘I hope one day people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the strength of their character.’ I can tell you that there’s a lot of character in this room.”

A total of 97 volunteers showed up for this event, representing American Red Cross, Hope Worldwide, Durham Fire Department, El Centro Hispano, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and United Way of the Greater Triangle, Walden said. They were able to reach 1,880 homes and hold conversations with 456 individuals about fire safety and prevention, she said.

Walden was encouraged that more than a third of the volunteers this year were under 18. Among them was Trevor Nabors, 15, of Apex, who spent the morning canvassing the Magnolia Pointe apartments – where Nicole Taybron lives. Asked about his motivation for waking up early to participate in the event, Nabors said, “It wasn’t difficult. It’s for a good cause – to keep people safe from fires and to make sure they know what to do in a fire.”

Nabors and his team knocked on 265 doors, talking to close to half of the residents. As noon approached, the teenager seemed to have a bit more energy left than team member Bob Goodman, a middle-aged Cary resident who on Saturday participated in the annual event for the third time. But Goodman said it was worth it.

“It’s the satisfaction of having saved lives, plus being able to meet really nice people from the community and showing them that you represent Jesus and his followers,” he said.

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