‘Protected’ and ‘safe’: sense of security after La Crosse home fire preparedness visits

By Justin Kern and Riley Neper, American Red Cross

Rita Thompson had questions on how to keep her home, herself and her cats safe in case of a fire at their modular home.

From the back deck of her La Crosse home, Rita asked American Red Cross volunteers Peter Knapik and Jay Tucker about proper use of a space heater, the best way to escape especially with her use of a cane, and dangers from different types of cooking apparatus. Meanwhile, firefighters from the La Crosse Fire Department replaced two smoke alarms, all as part of a day of home fire preparedness in La Crosse.

“I just thought it was important to protect my property and I wasn’t really sure if my smoke alarms were up-to-date. [Now] I feel more protected,” Thompson said after the visit and installations.

Rita Thompson, left, talks her through a fire escape plan for her home with American Red Cross volunteers Peter Knapik, center, and Jay Tucker.

Thompson’s home was one of approximately 100 homes safer over the past week, including a big push on May 8th with numerous home visits and an education station at Copeland Park in La Crosse. La Crosse was a signature city in Wisconsin to participate in the national “Sound the Alarm. Save a Life” home fire preparedness campaign. In 2020, similar events were put on pause, but extra health and safety measures by the Red Cross and partners in 2021, along with improvements in the outlook of the COVID pandemic, meant a return to a modified version of the home fire safety initiative. Statewide, Red Cross volunteers have also been able to empower numerous residents this spring with home fire education through virtual one-on-one conversations.

You can still sign up for virtual home fire preparedness resources and, where and when possible, in the installation of free smoke alarms by fire department partners. Click here or call 877-618-6628.

Erin Baschaw met Red Crossers at Copeland Park, picking up materials like a home fire safety checklist from volunteer Michelle McKinley. Baschaw took advantage of the preparedness materials as “peace of mind” – her daughter just moved into her own place for the first time, so Baschaw was interested in sharing the lessons and materials.

Sandy Seachrest, left, said she signed up for “Sound the Alarm. Save a Life” for the “safety” it provided. Here, Red Cross volunteer Jay Tucker walks Sandy through a home fire safety checklist.

La Crosse home-owner Sandy Seachrest met volunteers Tucker and Knapik on her front stoop during the home fire safety education portion of her visit Saturday. Wearing masks and spaced apart six feet, she heard how to map out two ways out of each room in her house from the Red Cross volunteers. Firefighters replaced alarms in her home, for free, and gave her advice on a replacement fire extinguisher, after she revealed the only one in her home “had probably been in my house since we moved in in 1984.”

Seachrest was exuberant on the preparedness visit and boiled it all down to one word: “safe.”

“It’s safety, I feel more safe,” she said.

Along with the La Crosse Fire Department, the May 8th event was supported by the Great Rivers United Way. Across the Wisconsin Region, home fire preparedness partners include Johnson Controls and West Bend Mutual Insurance Co. Find and share this free home fire preparedness resource: redcross.org/WIsmokealarms

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