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Iowa Family Credits Smoke Alarms for Saving Lives

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“The smoke detectors saved our lives.”

“I heard a popping sound in the front room. And, the fire [smoke] alarms on the ceiling were going off.”

The day Fort Dodge Firefighters and the American Red Cross installed smoke alarms in their home in October 2015, Jamie Robinson and Ed Derrig never thought they would need them. But after everyone had gone to bed on a cold, January night, they did. 

The high-pitch sound from two new smoke alarms woke up Robinson, Derrig and their two young daughters,10-year-old Mackenzie and 7-year-old Abby, alerting them to danger, alerting them to get out. Quickly, they put into play the fire escape plan that they worked on with the Red Cross back in October. “Me and my mommy we were talking,” Abby said. “And, we said we had to get out and go to the neighbor’s house really fast.”

Three months earlier, Red Cross volunteer Peggy Jordan, Fort Dodge Firefighter, Lieutenant Jason Vandi and Steve and Wanda Hart, an employee at the Fort Dodge Walmart, knocked on the Derrig’s door as part of a one-day fire safety project in their neighborhood. 

“The Red Cross came in and asked if it would be ok to put in to two new smoke detectors,” said Derrig. “They put one in the front room and in the hallway for us.”

“The daughters greeted us at the door,” Jordan said. “They were so excited about what we were doing; wanting to watch everything.”

While Lt. Vandi installed the new smoke alarms in the Derrig’s home, Jordan sat down with Mackenzie, Abby and their mom and created a fire escape plan. 

“I remember them sitting right down and working on the plan,” Jordan said. “Mr. Vandi was so sweet because before he tested the alarm, he warned them how loud it was going to be.”

“We had talked about it [a fire escape plan] and the girls are so smart,” said Robinson. “They know what to do to get out of the house.”

Thankfully, the family remembered that escape plan on Monday, January 25, 2016. And on one of the most difficult nights of their lives, the Derrig’s were grateful to see Jordan’s, familiar friendly face – this time as a Red Cross volunteer who was there to help. 

“She [Jamie] said, you’re the one who came to our house when they put those smoke detectors in,” said Derrig.  “You were so nice and you still look the same.”

Jordan said she realized she had been in the neighborhood before when she arrived at the scene of the home fire. 

“As I pulled up, I remembered the flag in the yard,” Jordan said. “Mr. Vandi from the fire department came up to me and he was so excited. He said, this was our area!”

Jordan channeled that excitement to focus on the family.

“My main concern was for the family,” Jordan said. “But, as I was sitting there talking with them, my heart was just filling up with joy. I realized that I was witnessing a miracle.”

The Derrig’s survival story is why the Red Cross is working with fire departments to install smoke alarms and talk about fire escape plans. 

“The smoke detector blitz took a lot of planning,” said Lenny Sanders, Assistant Chief of EMS and Operations for the Fort Dodge Fire Department. “But, being able to say that this was an initiative that was put in place and it saved a life. It’s been a really neat experience.”

The Fort Dodge community has rallied behind the Derrig’s, donating new clothes, beds and appliances. They planned to move into a new home and were appreciative of the help and support. 

“Thank you for everything that the fire department did and for the Red Cross,” said Robinson. “The smoke detectors saved our lives.”

The Red Cross launced a five year campaign in October 2014 that aims to reduce fire-related deaths and injuries by 25 percent. As part of the Home Fire Campaign, the Red Cross asks people to do two simple things that can help save lives – check their smoke alarms and develop an evacuation plan, practicing fire drills at home.

The best way to fight fire isn’t with fire but by being educated, vigilant and making fire safety a priority. To learn more about fire safety, visit redcross.org. To find local smoke alarm installation events or to become a volunteer, contact your local Red Cross. Join the campaign by sharing this information with friends, family and neighbors!

Photos of the Derrig family.