Firefighter’s family: Smoke detector saved our lives

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 19, 2013

Larry Keith was asleep last Thursday morning, just a few hours away from finishing his shift at the Salisbury Fire Department.
At 6:20 a.m., a page from Central Volunteer Fire Department came across his phone. He looked and saw the address — his own in northern Iredell County.
“That’s how I woke up,” he said.
Just after the page, Keith got a call from his wife, Heather. The message was a short one — the house is on fire.
Heather Keith said she was awakened the morning of Sept. 12 by the loud chirping of a smoke detector in the kitchen of the couple’s singlewide manufactured home.
“I looked up and saw a blanket of smoke across the ceiling,” she said. She sprinted to the other end of the home, grabbing her cell phone along the way and awakened her two sons, ages 6 and 3. She grabbed the younger boy, Riley, and instructed her older son. “I said, ‘Landon, the house is on fire. You have to go outside as fast as you can go,’ ” she said.
Heather said about five minutes later, when the first truck from Central VFD was pulling up, there were flames visible through the windows. She stepped back to the front door and called her cocker spaniel, which had been asleep in her bedroom. She called the dog two or three times and got no response, but she had to give up at that point because of the dense smoke now blanketing the kitchen and living room.
A chocolate lab, sleeping in her sons’ room, had darted out the door with her oldest son.
Later, a firefighter found the cocker spaniel, huddled in blankets on the bed, a little scared but otherwise unharmed, she said.
The couple said they have no doubt that smoke detector — the only one working in the house — saved the lives of Heather and her children.
Ironically, Larry said, the smoke detector came from Larry’s employer, the Salisbury Fire Department. He said he and his captain were at a home, putting up a smoke detector for the resident. “He asked me if I had a smoke detector and I said I had two or three but they didn’t work. So he tossed me one and said to take it home,” Larry recalled.
“That smoke detector saved my wife and kids,” he said.
Having been on the other side of the fence for several years, Keith said, he now has a better understanding of how fire victims feel.
“When it happens to you, it’s different,” he said.
He has also gained a new respect for the men and women of the fire service. His colleagues at Salisbury took up a collection, which helped his family replace some of the clothing they lost in the fire. And his fellow firefighters at Central have been collecting supplies, clothing and cash for the family.
“I can’t express enough how much this has meant to us. We’ve had so much support,” he said.
The support has extended beyond the fire department. Toter donated several trash cans to give the Keiths a place to put all the trash.
Larry said he’s always known the fire service was more than just a job — it is a brotherhood and a family — and that has never been as apparent as in the past week.
He and Heather bought the 1974 singlewide a few years ago, planning to live in it until they could put in a modular home. During the past four years, they fixed up the home, putting in new flooring, painting all of the rooms and adding new molding.
On the walls, Larry proudly placed awards from Salisbury and Central. One spot, now outlined by smoke, held an award with a fire ax and a plaque with the words “Firefighters save hearts and homes.” That plaque, he said, will be one of the first things they put up in their new home.
Another couple of things that will go into the house are smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. “There will be a smoke detector in every room,” Larry said.
He said he plans to get a construction Dumpster from Benfield Sanitation Service this weekend and rent an excavator to begin tearing down the house. Once everything is gone, their plans to put in a modular home will take place.
“God gave us a little kick in the pants,” Heather said.
Heather said her two boys were not traumatized by the fire — in fact, both were just excited to see fire trucks.
Her youngest son talked to his dad on Wednesday night, and had one request. “He said, ‘Daddy can you bring me fire trucks home tomorrow?’ ” Heather said.
And while his dad didn’t bring the trucks that Thursday morning, Riley got his wish.
Heather, who is taking courses for Emergency Medical Technician training and has plans to be a flight nurse, said she has a new respect for the job her husband and others perform on a daily basis.
Both of the Keiths said they have one message for others to lessen the chance of dealing with the aftermath of a house fire. “Check your smoke detectors. Make sure they are working,” Heather said.
“That smoke detector his captain gave us saved our lives,” she said.

Want to help?

Anyone wanting to help the Keith family can drop off donations at Central Fire Department, 4634 Wilkesboro Hwy. The most immediate need is clothing but household supplies are also needed. The following are the family’s clothing sizes: Boys, size 4T and a 13 or 1 shoe; size 2 shoe; women’s size medium shirt, size 9 to 12 pants, 11W shoe; men’s pants size 38W and 36L and size 15 shoe.
In Rowan County, donations can be dropped off at any Salisbury Fire Department station, or call 704-638-5351 to have the items picked up.