GR smoke alarm program sees spike after deadly fire

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The investigation continues into the house fire in Grand Rapids that claimed the lives of a mother and three sons.

Many are looking for answers about what caused the fire that killed 35-year-old Wanedia Scales and her sons, 15-year-old Xavier Woldeab, 14-year-old Robert Scales Jr. and 10-year-old Elijah Scales, but investigators say it takes time to put all the pieces together.

A photo of the Scales family. Robert Scales Sr.(back), Wanedia Scales (left) Robert Jr., Elijah (front), Xavier (right) (Courtesy)

On Friday, the Grand Rapids Fire Department put out a statement saying it was continuing to collect and analyze data from the early Wednesday fire on Dawes Avenue SE, near the intersection of 28th Street and Kalamazoo Avenue. The agency added that it’s inappropriate to answer speculative questions before an investigation has concluded.

Meanwhile, officials went door-to-door in the neighborhood surrounding the Dawes home, trying to prevent future tragedies.

“It’s sad. We try and get the word out in as many different ways as we can. We just want to help them protect their families,” said Dawn Kulac, the program director for the GRFD’s Residential Safety Assessment Program.

Officials go door-to-door in southeast Grand Rapids to inform people about the Residential Safety Assessment Program. (Feb. 7, 2020)

She and program manager Michael Curtis spent the afternoon giving residents like Ed Hesley the opportunity to sign up for the program, which will install smoke detectors for free.

The tragedy struck just a block from Hesley’s home and was still fresh in his mind.

“I’m still stunned,” Hesley said. “It was like a big two-by-four across the forehead.”

Kulac and Curtis signed Hesley up for a visit from firefighters.

“We have dates that we can scheduled to have our crews come out. We’ll explain the program, explain what the crews will do when they come out here,” Kulac said.

“We put smoke alarms in all of the bedrooms, hallways outside the bedrooms, main floor and basements,” Curtis said. “Many people don’t realize that smoke alarms are only good for 10 years. So a lot of people who have them don’t realize they’re obsolete. Those need to be changed, as well as those who don’t even have working smoke alarms.”

Firefighters will also install CO alarms and check the house for other safety concerns. Since the program was created in 2013, they have installed over 63,000 smoke detectors in over 10,000 homes.

There were no working smoke detectors in the house that burned, killing the Scales family.

A makeshift memorial for those killed in the house fire. (Feb. 7, 2020)

“It’s something that’s immediately in their mind,” Curtis said. “Once that’s gone, then people get busy. They forget about the importance of having smoke detectors in their homes.”

On average, GRFD gets about five calls a week to schedules appointments. They have signed up 100 homes since Wednesday’s fire.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Ed Hesley said.

You can go to the Residential Safety Assessment Program webpage to learn more about the program, or call 311 or 616.456.3000 to schedule an appointment.

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