Teenage Girl Donates Smoke Detectors to Homes in Need

Bailey Lake uses 4-H award money to help improve safety for vulnerable senior population

Every year, Bailey Lake’s award-winning market lambs earn her a tidy profit at the state fair, funds the 15-year-old high school freshman diligently deposits in a savings account for college.

This year, however, Lake decided to use the money a bit more capriciously — she spent it on charity.

Lake’s parents, Inga and Kevin, run Agape Home Care, a Kalispell-based home health care service. At dinner one night, the family’s discussion turned to the importance of home-safety equipment, including fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, as well as recent statistics revealing that numerous households lack working smoke alarms.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, three out of five home fire deaths resulted from fires in properties without working smoke alarms. Between 2007 and 2011, more than one-third of home fire deaths resulted from fires in which no smoke alarms were present, while one-quarter of the deaths were caused by fires at properties where smoke alarms were present but failed to operate.

The risk of dying in reported home-structure fires is cut in half in homes with working smoke alarms, according to the association.

For Lake, the figures were sobering.

“That got me thinking about ways that I could help the community,” Lake said.

To get the biggest bang for her buck, she started researching programs that could bolster her 4-H funds and learned about the Flathead Electric Cooperative’s Roundup for Safety program, which was developed to help identify and fix safety hazards in the local community by awarding grants to nonprofit organizations to help pay for life-safety projects. The voluntary program is funded by participating Flathead Electric members who “round up” their monthly electric bill to the nearest dollar with the extra money going into a fund for community safety projects.

In order to partner with a nonprofit, Lake turned to the Kalispell Senior Center, and Flathead Electric approved the grant, which was complemented with donations from Agape, the Flathead County Agency on Aging and Lake’s earnings from her market lambs.

“Our goal was to donate 50 smoke alarms and we were able to get 150,” Lake said.

The Agency on Aging helped identify households in need of smoke alarms, which tended to be seniors who live independently. Either their smoke alarms were dated and not operating, according to Agency on Aging volunteer Dee Boyce, or they hadn’t installed one.

“I made 400 phone calls throughout the Flathead Valley,” Boyce said. “You’d be surprised how many people are in need of smoke alarms.”

Steve Bicknell, president of the Kalispell Senior Center board of directors, has been helping to install the smoke detectors, but gave Lake credit for her creativity in cobbling together the funding and coming up the idea, which she calls the “Citizens Safety Fire Prevention Project.

While Lake’s parents helped her organize the project, they said she did all of the heavy lifting — an enterprising characteristic they say doesn’t surprise them anymore.

“She gets an idea and just runs with it,” Kevin said.