JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX)- It's another chilling statistic about our state. Mississippi leads the nation in the number of fire deaths per year.
"Again, Mississippi is leading the pack in an area we don't like to lead," said Jackson County Fire District Coordinator Ray Watson.
Officials say it's not hard to see why Mississippi's fire death rate is so high.
"In 2007, I believe there were like 74 fire deaths," Watson said. "In the majority of those, there was no smoke alarm, or the smoke alarm was not working."
Officials estimate that about 20 percent of Jackson County homes don't have smoke alarms at all. Of the ones that do, officials estimate that about half of the alarms don't even work. That leaves countless Jackson County residents at a considerably higher risk of dying in a fire.
"A smoke alarm is going to catch the first part of the fire when it's just starting," said Watson. "The smoke will go up and activate the smoke alarm, and thereby give people a chance to wake up and get out and possibly save themselves and the children. Get everybody out to safety."
Help for Jackson County residents is only a call away. A federal grant will buy nearly 32,000 smoke alarms for people in certain Mississippi counties, including Jackson County. The grant gives preference to low-income families, homes with young children or handicapped residents, and the elderly. Smoke alarms given through the grant are completely free to residents.
"The local fire departments in Jackson County, including city and county departments, are going to take phone calls from people that want to register for this program," said Watson. "It's on a first come, first served basis."
"We're glad to help people, especially those that can't help themselves," said Ray West, a firefighter with Gulf Park Estates Fire Department. "I believe we'll do a little bit of good in the community."
People can sign up by calling their local fire department. The alarms won't be delivered until late March or early April, but officials say it's important to sign up now. The number of people who register will determine the number of smoke alarms that are delivered to Jackson County.
Once the free smoke alarms are installed, firefighters say residents will need to do their part.
"You should check your smoke alarms once a month is what we recommend to make sure that your smoke alarm is properly working and functional," said Jackson County Fire Prevention Official Terry Jackson. "If they're not working, you need to change the batteries."
Jackson said a quick test to see if your smoke alarm is working is to press the button on the front of the alarm, and hold it down for a few seconds. If the alarm starts to beep, it works properly.
Jackson advised that most batteries needed to be changed once or twice a year. The alarms that the county will receive should last up to ten years, as long as batteries are replaced regularly.
Participating fire departments are: