GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — John Hill and three other family members, including his 86-year-old mother, were asleep when a fire started in their home around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Moments later, the home’s smoke alarms sounded. Hill got his mother while the others escaped the residence located in the 1200 block of Duhnam Street SE in Grand Rapids.
“We’d gotten to the landing, halfway down; the smoke got us, engulfed us to the point where mother just fell out,” Hill described.
The other three were already safely outside the house.
“This all happened inside of five minutes. I’ve learned my lesson about fire,” Hill said.
Only one family member was hospitalized for smoke inhalation.
Firefighters say the blaze started in the basement of the home but quickly moved up the walls and up to the first floor. Hill said he didn’t see flames until he made his way past the door to the basement.
Working smoke detectors made the difference here. Examples like this are one way firefighters encourage residents to get and check their detectors.
For the last 16 months, the Grand Rapids Fire Department has also been using another approach.
Using federal grants totaling $745,000, civilian employees go door-to-door in targeted, fire-prone neighborhoods of Grand Rapids to talk about fire safety. The program is for owner-occupied homes in the Creston, South East Community Association (SECA), Garfield Park, West Grand or South East End neighborhoods.
Michael Curtis, a project director for the fire department’s Residential Fire Safety Program, went door-to-door Wednesday in the neighborhood where the fire happened, handing out safety information and making sure homes have enough working smoke detectors.
“We have done just under 2,000 homes and we’ve installed just over 10,000 smoke detectors,” GRFD Capt. Dan VanderHyde said.
But the department has also come up with startling numbers showing there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“Twenty to 25 percent of the homes that we’ve inspected had no working smoke detectors. 40 percent of those homes had zero to one,” VanderHyde said.
Statistics are one way to tell the story. The Hill family’s close call is another.
“If we were not aware that the smoke was coming, we’d been asleep. We’d be sleeping right now,” Hill said.
If you’d like the fire department to come by your home, you can call 616.456.3966 or by go to the GRFD Residential Safety Program website.