OTTUMWA — One of the biggest dangers in homes across the city is an absence of working smoke alarms, contributing to a record 30 structure fires so far this year.
A new project next month will tackle that issue head-on. The American Red Cross Southern Prairie Chapter, American Red Cross of Greater Iowa Ottumwa Fire Department, United Way of Wapello County and the city have partnered to install smoke alarms in up to 300 homes on Sept. 11.
The Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation awarded a $10,000 grant for the project, which will help purchase 375 dual-sensor smoke alarms with a 10-year lithium battery. This project isn’t new to Iowa. A similar event canvassed Centerville last fall and after the death of a young woman and three children in Lake City in November, the community rallied around the effort to protect their families and homes with smoke alarms.
“We went door to door in the community as a blitz effort,” said Dan Cataldi, American Red Cross of Greater Iowa state response officer.
Brandon Holstrom, Red Cross’ response coordinator in Ottumwa, said if the project is successful, ORLF has said it wants to fund similar projects in the future.
“The goal is not just to put one in a home, it’s to make sure they’re fully operational,” Cataldi said.
Ottumwa has been plagued by structure fires this year — 30, to be exact. That’s a record high, said Fire Chief Tony Miller. But only one house had a working smoke alarm. Thankfully, there have been zero fatalities.
“It’s a tragedy waiting to happen,” said City Attorney Joni Keith.
In 2012, there were 42 fire fatalities in Iowa, according to the Iowa State Fire Marshal’s Office. In the majority of the fires, either there were no smoke alarms or they weren’t working. In that same year, 217 lives were saved by properly working smoke alarms.