Editorial: Get serious about fire safety

Family and Red Cross are working to raise awareness about the vital importance of smoke alarms.

The American Red Cross and a Lawrence family that knows all too well the potentially tragic consequences are sounding the alarm this weekend about the importance of smoke alarms.

From 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday, volunteers with the Red Cross will knock on doors in the vicinity of 19th Street and Haskell Avenue. The targeted area is between Rhode Island and Harper streets, from 23rd Street to Sixth Street.

The volunteers will check the smoke alarms at each home and install new ones where needed. In addition, the volunteers will do the same for anyone living outside the neighborhood who calls and requests a smoke alarm check.

The event is a response to a fire on March 26 that claimed the life of 28-year-old Lawrence native Madison Halverstadt. Halverstadt died of smoke inhalation after a fire broke out in the home she war renting at 938 E. 19th St. The home was not equipped with smoke detectors. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

In Madison’s memory and to help prevent other fire deaths, Madison’s father, Roger Halverstadt, and mother, Deanna Bowman, teamed up with the Red Cross to sponsor the Sound the Alarm event.

“It seemed like an opportunity to help raise awareness,” Roger Halverstadt said. “I care about our community, and I care about the people who are here.”

Lawrence city code requires that rental properties be equipped with smoke detectors. Still, the property at 938 E. 19th was in compliance with the code. That’s because only 10 percent of a property owner’s rental portfolio is actually inspected, and the 19th Street property had not been inspected.

Jane Blocher, executive director of the American Red Cross for the Lawrence area, said two-thirds of fire deaths occur in homes with no working smoke alarms. Blocher said that during Sound the Alarm events, volunteers will often find smoke detectors that are not functioning properly. She said residents are often unaware of problems with smoke detectors.

Blocher said the Red Cross has documented that more than 400 lives have been saved by Sound the Alarm events.

The Sound the Alarm event is a good reminder of the importance of checking smoke alarms to ensure they exist and are functioning properly. If they aren’t, call 785-230-1914 to secure a volunteer’s help this weekend.

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