Tragic Indiana house fire reminds local firefighters of need to teach fire safety

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG)- Thirty one Iowans have died in fires so far this year. And firefighters say we’re entering the time of greatest fire danger as people try to keep warm during winter with space heaters or burning candles during the holidays.

This safety house is used to teach fire safety to about 2,000 3rd graders every year in the metro Cedar Rapids area. Firefighters say a tragic house fire in Indiana that may have killed four kids and two adults is a reminder of the need to teach safety.

And firefighters say a tragic overnight fire in northwestern Indiana is a reminder of fire dangers.

Authorities in Logansport, Indiana, about halfway between Chicago and Indianapolis, say as many as six people may have died in a fire that broke out in a rural home.

That includes four children ranging in age from infancy to 10 years.

For Cedar Rapids firefighters, the push to teach fire safety starts young.

About 2,000 third graders a year go through the department’s safety house where they can practice escaping as smoke fills a room and learn more about fire dangers. The program has been in operation for more than 20 years.

Julie Popelka, a firefighter who specializes in public education, says in Cedar Rapids and many other cities unattended cooking fires are the number one cause of house fires.

So the safety house has a kitchen where Popelka or other instructors can show kids how to keep towels and flammables away from burners.

She also demonstrates the need to keep a clear space around fireplaces and warns that lit candles can easily tip over starting a house fire.

Another firefighter, Brad Cowdin, says firefighters know kids remember the safety lessons they teach.

He recalled one fire a couple of years ago where a then 4th grader, who took a safety house tour, got herself and younger siblings to safety when a smoke alarm went off.

“The 4th grader woke up, heard the alarm and was able to alert her siblings and get everyone out safely to their meeting place,” Cowdin said.

Popelka says firefighters also like to emphasize the importance of working smoke detectors.

The first reports from the Indiana fire indicated rescuers heard no alarms going off as they arrived.

In the 31 Iowa fire deaths this year, firefighters found only four homes with working alarms.

“It’s a scary thing when people are pulling their batteries out because they burned some toast or something. It’s not worth it. Just let that smoke alarm go off and be sure you have them functioning,” Popelka said.

This Saturday the Cedar Rapids Fire Department is hosting a Neighbors Helping Neighbors open house at the Central Fire Station on 1st Avenue S.E.

It runs from 2:00 until 5:00 p.m.

Firefighters say the money they raise from silent auctions and other events will go to fund fire safety programs including putting more smoke alarms into homes.