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Fireman Randy's Christmas Eve list is shorter than Santa's

| Friday, May 4, 2012, 1:23 a.m.

Bryce John was expected to be one happy little boy when he arrived home from his grandmother's place Christmas Eve afternoon.

While the 6-year-old was away from his parents' Jeannette residence, two city firemen visited his Penn Avenue home and installed three smoke detectors free of charge as part of an annual volunteer program aimed to save lives and curtail fires.

"My son heard about it at school from 'Fireman Randy,'" said Heather John, Bryce's mother.

The reference was to Randy Dubich, who, as regular as Santa Claus, arrives at Jeannette homes, smoke detectors at the ready, every Christmas Eve.

Over the years, Dubich, assisted by other fire department personnel, has installed more than 500 free smoke detectors to residents who can't afford to purchase them. Three smoke detectors are installed in each home.

"We're usually dealing with elderly people that don't have a chance to get out," Dubich said.

As Jeannette's fire prevention officer, Dubich coordinates with the city's schools, day cares, preschools and senior centers for a range of fire prevention programs.

It was during these programs with schools that his annual trek was born.

"I was doing my fire prevention program and started asking kids if they had smoke detectors," Dubich recalled. "I started getting kids raising their hands saying they didn't. ... I had a list of like 80 or 90 people."

In those days, it could take Dubich and other volunteers about six to eight hours to install smoke detectors at all the homes on his list.

But the list of homes in need has shrunk considerably over the years. Dubich completed work yesterday about noon.

"There's only two names on the list (this year)," Dubich said. "That's a far cry from 80, 90 or 100 in past years."

Dubich credits the decreasing numbers to a city ordinance that mandates all rental properties have hard-wired smoke detectors connected with battery backup.

"That has cut my smoke detectors down drastically," Dubich said. "I still have the elderly people and the low-income people that fall through the cracks. If people need them, they can call our number. We'll get them on our list and make sure they're taken care of."

Councilman Robert Carter has volunteered several times.

"I just like to do it. It's my department, being I'm the head of public safety. I like seeing the expression on their faces when we come in. We all have our Santa Claus hats on," Carter said. "It helps people that either can't afford them or their landlord doesn't have one in their house or kids want one in the bedroom. We promote kids having them in their bedrooms."

Why Christmas Eve day• Dubich said it just seemed right.

"It seemed like an appropriate day," Dubich said. "Everybody's usually home early in the day. We call them, tell them we're going to be there. It's just the logical thing to do."

Help comes from several different avenues. Many city service organizations -- such as Kiwanis, Rotary and the Lions Club -- make cash donations to help defray the costs. The fire department's Ladies Auxiliary donates batteries. Dubich gets the smoke detectors from Duncan Tru-Value Hardware.

"It's unbelievable. It's the satisfaction in doing it," Dubich said.

This year's visit to the John home was no different. And the Johns were pleased as well.

"This is great," said Rich John, the father of three children. "My son will be happy. When Bryce gets home, he'll say, 'It's about time.'"

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