Reflective signs could be lifesavers in an emergency

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   Would you spend $15 to possibly save the life of a family member, or maybe even your own life?
   It's not a gimmick.
   Watauga Volunteer Fire Department is selling reflective house numbers for $15 in an effort to raise funds to buy equipment which will help them upgrade their ISO rating, thereby saving town residents money on their homeowners insurance.
   How can these numbers be any better than the ones you already have posted near the door or on your mailbox?
   If they're not reflective, when emergency responders roll on a call and get in the vicinity of an incident location, "you have to start slowing down when you finally recognize an address and then you have to determine which direction the address is running -- whether it's running high or low," said Dale Smalling, Watauga fire chief. "Then you start hunting them little bitty numbers on those black mailboxes and half the time, if they don't have them numbered, you go by them."
   When the fire department responds to a call in the Biltmore area with flames visible, it's usually not too hard to spot. But if the department is asked to answer a smoke investigation call, no flames visible, "every bit of that up there [Biltmore area] is in circles," said Smalling. "Many times I've been up there hunting a fire and it's been over on another circle.
   "The rescue squad has the same problem we do," as does the sheriff's department and power board, Smalling said.
   Houses with long driveways also are a problem if there are no address markers visible near the roadway. "You can drive around 10 minutes hunting for something. Generally, you don't find it unless somebody comes out and waves at you or something," Smalling said.
   Turning on a porch light to signal emergency responders doesn't always work, especially in populated areas where neighbors may leave a light on as well.
   "But if you've got address markers and street markers, we've got maps here that we go by and we can generally go right to the place," Smalling said.
   In instances where there might be a cardiac or diabetes patient, or someone in respiratory distress, the minutes spent driving around searching for a location could mean life or death.
   "If we can't find you, we can't help you," Smalling said.
   The signs offered by the fire department are green with white reflective 3-inch numbers which can be seen easily in either daylight or dark. "Everybody has bragged on them that has seen them. I guess we've sold maybe 200 to 300 in our coverage area. It's really helped a lot," Smalling said.
   The metal signs are predrilled and ready for mounting to the mailbox post or house. "We number them and deliver them to anybody that wants one. We've been as far as Hickory Tree," he said. The department also has had requests from out-of-state residents. "Of course, we didn't deliver those," he said.
   The department makes $8 profit from each sign sold, but, according to Smalling, "I'm not pushing them because we're selling them. We're more concerned with being able to find them [residents] than we are making the money.
   "It's just a great idea. You can go up the road here [in Watauga] after dark and you'll see them and then you'll realize the benefit of them," he said.
   Purchases may be made by mailing a check or money order, payable to Watauga Volunteer Fire Department, P.O. Box 47, Watauga, TN 37654. Be sure to include your name, address and telephone number.