Fire Fatalities Lead Nebraska Fire Department on Smoke Detector Push

Columbus, Nebraska and the American Red Cross work to install smoke detectors and complete home escape plans.

Columbus and the American Red Cross work to
install smoke detectors

Molly Hunter, Columbus Telegram, Neb.


Apr. 21—The Columbus Fire Department is on a push to install free smoke alarms in city residences, educate families about fire safety and assist them in completing home fire escape plans.

It’s all part of the Sound the Alarm, Save a Life event, a joint effort between the Columbus Fire Department (CFD) and the American Red Cross serving central and western Nebraska.

Generally, Columbus Fire Chief Dan Miller said, CFD wants to see working smoke detectors in every Columbus residence. The particular goal of Sound the Alarm, Save a Life this year is to make 100 homes safer in Columbus, he said.

“Every year we select one city in every state to do the Sound the Alarm, Save a Life campaign in,” said Rachelle Lipker, executive director for the American Red Cross serving central and western Nebraska. “This year, Columbus was chosen.”

Typically, Lipker said, there is about one fire fatality each year in central and western Nebraska.

On Oct. 17, four people died in a house fire at a single family residence located in the 1000 block of 20th Avenue in Columbus.

“Since those fire fatalities happened in October … in Columbus, we’ve responded to 11 fatalities this year so far,” Lipker said.

Lipker said Columbus was partly selected because of the October fire, but also because Miller and CFD were so enthusiastic about partnering when the Red Cross reached out.

“Smoke detectors do get old after about 10 years and stop being as sensitive and stop working correctly, so we want to make sure that smoke detectors are less than 10-years-old,” Miller said. “And we just want to make sure people have access to smoke detectors that they need.”

The event began on April 8 and will continue through May 8.

“We’ll be having a culminating event on May 8 where we will canvas an area around the fatality fire from … October in a 10-block area and go door-to-door and make sure everyone has working smoke alarms. And if they need one, then we will install one,” Miller said.

Lipker added that the Red Cross is still looking for volunteers to help spread the word about Sound the Alarm, Save a Life in Columbus. She said people can call Gina Troncone at 402-990-6190 or email her at for information about volunteering.

Interested families can request a smoke alarm by leaving a voice message for the Red Cross at 1-833-422-1751. After that, either the Red Cross or CFD will reach out to install the smoke alarm.

Lipker said it’s important to include children in the planning process so they know what is expected of them in the event of a fire.

Lipker said it’s also important for households to establish a place to meet up if there is ever a fire. Getting out of a burning home as quickly and as safely possible is also key, she said.

“Do not ever go back in, not even for pets,” Lipker said.

Get out and stay out, Lipker said.

Miller said there are other important preventative steps people can take.

“The big thing we want to get across is that we want every home to be safe with a working smoke detector and we want people to be thoughtful with their use of open flames or heating devices in their homes. And also to make sure that there’s space around those items and non-combustible surfaces to prevent fires like that from occurring,” Miller said.

Molly Hunter is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at


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