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Safeguarding the future
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Caldwell & Cowan Funeral Home has partnered with the City of Covington Fire Department and the Newton Medical Center's First Steps program to provide the families of each baby born at Newton Medical Center with a free smoke detector.

Funeral Director and Covington Fire Department Lt. Don Campbell publicly introduced the program Thursday. Mayor Sam Ramsey, Fire Chief Don Floyd and Georgia Insurance and Fire Commissioner John Oxendine spoke to gathered individuals involved in the program.

"We're hoping by next year it will be statewide," Campbell said. "If we get our druthers, we'd go nationwide."

He said Caldwell & Cowan owners Judson and Ginger Caldwell challenged him to think of a way they could help the community.

"In our profession we help people at the most difficult times in their lives - when their hearts are aching," Judson Caldwell said.

Campbell and Caldwell agreed the happiest times in people's lives come at the birth of their children. They decided to help parents keep their little ones safe.

They contacted the office of Oxendine and NMC CEO James Weadick with their idea.

Oxendine explained the GISFC program Operation Safe Home, which provides smoke detectors to programs such as First Steps at discounted rates.

NMC First Steps volunteers also give first-time mothers an information packet explaining proper breast feeding, correct car seat placement, the dangers of second-hand smoke, the importance of reading to children as well as other educational tools about infant development.

Director of Volunteer Services, NMC Martha Taylor said the program, created by Prevent Child Abuse Georgia, supplied 265 mothers with information kits last year.

New mom Lauren Lingerfelt and her husband Josh recently received their First Steps Information and Safety Kit after their daughter Libby was born on Tuesday.

Lingerfelt explained her family moved to Newton County a few weeks ago. She said it greatly concerned her that their 1940s home did not have smoke detectors installed.

"Of all the things on the list of stuff we needed to get, it's nice to have one less thing," Lingerfelt said.

 Oxendine said smoke detectors and knowing what to do in case of a fire are the best defense in surviving a major fire.

He recently viewed the damage of a motel fire in Riverside that claimed the lives of a family of five as well as a home in John's Creek where a fire fighter died trying to find people inside the home.

"I can't tell you how many bodies I've seen at a fire scene," Oxendine said, "and you never get used to it."

He said he was proud of the support of Mayor Ramsey and the efforts of Chief Floyd to educate the public about fire safety.

"I'm happy to say the city of Covington has enjoyed 18 consecutive years without a fire death," Floyd said.

Ramsey also explained his dedication to Covington's public safety operations.

"I've got to brag a bit - we are one of the three cities in the country accredited in all areas, and the one is the fire department," Ramsey said.

Oxendine congratulated Ramsey and Floyd for the fire department's recent class three certification. The Public Protection Classification survey by the Insurance Service Organization rates fire departments on a scale of one to 10, with one being the highest and 10 the lowest.

The fire department's rating jumped from a four to a three because of its water resources, fire fighter training and the receiving and handling of fire alarms.

Newton County residents could possibly receive a reduction in their homeowners' insurance premiums by contacting their providers after October 1.

Oxendine also said he was proud of the staff of Caldwell and Cowan for enhancing NMC's First Steps program. "This is what being a good corporate citizen is about," Oxendine said. "This is what being a good Georgia citizen's about."

For more information on how to protect your home and educate older children about fire safety, visit