GRFD nearing 50,000th smoke detector install

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the Feb. 4, 2018 episode of “This Is Us.”

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Fans of the popular NBC television series “This is Us” were on the edge of their seats as they watched Jack Pearson, a husband and father who’s death has been foreshadowed from the beginning of the series, brave the flames of a house fire.

In the episode following Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast, it was revealed Jack Pearson survived the flames only to later die in the hospital.

The “This Is Us” house fire was sparked by a malfunctioning kitchen appliance and the house didn’t have any working smoke detectors. It’s a script Grand Rapids Fire Department Lt. Bill Smith could have written himself.

“Over half the fires, the area of origin are in the kitchen,” Smith said.

A one-of-a-kind program in Grand Rapids is helping avoid life imitating art. 24 Hour News 8 recently went along on a GRFD Residential Safety Program inspection.

Don and Judy Feutz’s West side home is neat as a pin. It’s the kind of place anyone would feel safe in. But there are always things you may not think about.

“How often should you check your smoke alarm?” GRFD Lt. Kara Johnson asked Judy Feutz during a follow-up to a home safety inspection.

“Once a year,” Judy Feutz answered.

But smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are supposed to be checked once a week, according to Johnson.

The inspections are free and usually take less than a half hour. They are carried out by on-duty neighborhood fire house crews between emergency calls. Firefighters install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and look for any potential dangers, like a space heater too close to combustibles or a laundry basket too close to a water heater.

“You’re looking for three feet away from the furnace, hot water heater,” Johnson told Feutz. “Because that’s what can start fires.”

The inspections also provide information on what to do if you do have a fire.

“It’s completely voluntary, so there’s no need for anybody to feel like they’re being pushed into the situation,” Michael Curtis, the coordinator of the Residential Safety Program, said. “They can call 311. We have a calendar that they can pick out a time they want us to come out. We have appointments (in the) mornings, afternoons, evenings and on weekends.”

In the five years since the Residential Safety Program began, city fire crews have visited some 5,000 homes. Pretty soon, they’ll put up smoke detector no. 50,000.

While it’s impossible to gauge the number of fires that didn’t occur because of the inspections, GRFD says detectors installed through the program have alerted occupants to fires at least a dozen times — and that’s just the fires that were reported.

“We hope to continue that trend. This program is making a difference,” Lt. Smith said.

The program may also be expanded, in one form or another, statewide. It’s is being used by the State Fire Marshal as an example of how a community can reduce risk to citizens through education and action.