By Madeleine Wright

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It has been a grim start to the year in terms of fire deaths in the city. But an effort is underway to prevent the next tragedy.

The American Red Cross went door-to-door Friday morning, installing free smoke alarms in Philadelphia’s Wissinoming and Frankford neighborhoods as part of its annual “Sound the Alarm” campaign.

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“I thank you guys, because right now I’m really financially strapped and I know a lot of people are having the same situations, and we think last of saving lives. We don’t really think about that until tragedies happen,” homeowner Millicent Furgess said.

Tragedies like the Kensington rowhome fire on April 24 that killed three boys and their father. Officials say there were no working smoke alarms in the home.

“We have a fire problem here in the city of Philadelphia. We’ve had 21 fire deaths already this year,” Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said.

City residents who can’t afford a smoke alarm can call 311 and the folks at the Philadelphia Fire Department will come out and install it for free.

But officials confirm there are 6,500 people on the waiting list.

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“It’s absolutely not same-day service. That’s just not something we can do because we’re such a busy fire department,” Thiel said.

The number of pending requests is high because the fire department suspended smoke alarm installations for almost two years amid the pandemic.

Firefighters say they are working to catch up on the backlog now.

“We installed about 1,000 smoke alarms in December of 2021. We’ve been, on average, installing about 1,000 a month since,” Thiel said.

The Red Cross also has pending smoke alarm installations, but officials weren’t able to say how many people remain on the waiting list.

The nonprofit similar to the fire department says homeowners may have to wait several weeks for volunteers to come out.

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Madeleine Wright