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Project Safe Holidays Aims to Arm Families Against House Fires

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With the holidays just around the corner many are thinking of turkey and presents - the Noon Rotary Club in Kearney is thinking about smoke detectors.

Project Safe Holidays was started in 2005 after tragedy struck the city. Three Kearney citizens died in a house fire, one of them a seven-year-old boy. After learning that many families in local elementary schools did not have working smoke alarms, the Rotary Club and the Kearney Volunteer Fire Department got to work.

Every year around the holidays they work with Kearney Public Schools, the Head Start Program and the Peterson Senior Center to find families and elderly persons in need of new smoke alarms or batteries. This year they visited around 50 homes in one day, changing batteries and installing new alarms – all for free.

"The goal is to save lives and primarily of young children and also help the elderly who don't want to get up and really shouldn't be up on step ladders changing the batteries," said chairperson of Project Safe Holidays, Larry Hardesty.

Having a working smoke alarm, or smoke detector, and having the proper amount in your home dramatically reduces the instances of death in house fires. Volunteer Fire Chief Ken Tracy stresses this point.

"You know I've heard people talking about smoke alarms smoke detectors. Is there a difference? The only difference between a smoke alarm and a smoke detector is WORKING smoke alarm" he said. "That's the key word – working."

A working smoke detector is only part of the equation. Tracy also says it's very important for families to have a fire escape plan and a meeting place and to make sure that children know where to meet and that they should never re-enter the house for any reason. However, just receiving new alarms can give parents peace of mind.

Brittany Weise has two young children and heard about the program through her son's elementary school. She said that she wouldn't even know how to install a smoke alarm herself and is very grateful to be receiving two new alarms from the project.

"It makes me feel a lot better," she said, "knowing in the middle of the night, something God forbid could happen it makes me feel safe."

Even with the added peace of mind and the enormous safety benefits, for some families, getting new smoke detectors is easier said than done. Alone a smoke detector only costs about five dollars but for an entire household that can add up. This is where the volunteers come in.

"When you have to put in four or five of them, for some households that may be the difference for them being able to eat this week and putting smoke alarms in – tough choice but they need to have smoke alarms, so that's why we're doing it for free."

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Smoke alarms should be changed out every 10 years but batteries need to be replaced twice a year. Tracy recommends doing this at the same time as you change your clocks for daylight savings time. The Kearney Volunteer Fire Department also wants families to know that if they cannot afford new smoke alarms that they can stop by the station and they will supply you with units free of charge. Their website is

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