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Learning Lessons from Loss: Detroit Grandmother Pushes for Fire Safety

Lisa Lipscomb’s devastating loss inspires fire prevention education.

On Thanksgiving Day, when the nation was giving gratitude with traditional turkey feasts, Lisa Lipscomb was dealing with an unimaginable tragedy, the loss of her 11-month-old granddaughter, who died in a house fire.

Her wound wide open, the 44-year-old language arts teacher for Detroit Public Schools, shared her tragedy on social media, asking others to take precautions against house fires.

With a few keyboard strokes, some phone calls and talks, she’s inspired hundreds of metro Detroiters to take steps to make their homes safer places.

How could someone in Lisa Lipscomb’s family die in a fire?

Her family is full of firefighters. Her father, Capt. Phillip Lipscomb Sr., taught in the Detroit Fire Department Training Academy. Her brother and two of her cousins are firefighters. It just didn’t make sense.

Yet on Nov. 21, the night before Thanksgiving, her 11-month-old granddaughter, Abreeona, the baby’s mother, Lisa Perkins, and their roommate died in a tragic house fire—each of them succumbing to smoke inhalation.

Lipscomb had questions.

“I asked about smoke detectors, and they told me that there were two units mounted on the bedroom walls, but both had been taken off the walls,” Lipscomb says. “One was in a kitchen drawer and the other had no batteries. They told me the one in the kitchen drawer was beeping.”

Now, Lipscomb is on a mission to save lives in Detroit, where nearly 50 people die in the more than 30,000 fires the Detroit Fire Department responds to each year.

 

“I heard about fire safety for most of my life. It isn’t enough to hear it; you have to share what you know,” she wrote to friends on Facebook. “I shared this message the other day and I’m posting it again ... ”

She made a simple request, asking readers to install smoke detectors in their homes—one in each bedroom—and keep working batteries in them.

Lipscomb reminded them to check their children’s rooms, too.

She implored friends, associates and family to get up from whatever they were doing to test their detectors immediately, and go out and buy new nine-volt batteries for them.

Lipscomb made a note to self: Get people to donate smoke detectors and nine-volt batteries.

Last month, she invited Detroit firefighters to visit her school to discuss the dangers of space heaters and dried Christmas trees.

She continued asking people to check their detectors.

They wrote her back.

“Bought new batteries yesterday. Thanks,” one woman replied. “Changed batteries yesterday,” said another. “Just bought six detectors today,” a man shared.

“I wish I could have gone into my granddaughter’s apartment and noticed that the smoke detectors were not up,” she says. “I just wish that someone would have noticed and someone would have said, ‘Where are the smoke detectors?’—or someone would have pressed the test button. It would have spared three lives, and the life of an 11-month-old baby who never got a birthday. It’s so unfair.”

Lipscomb has found strength in the flood of support and comfort from family and friends, but memories of Abreeona make her smile.

“She was the sweetest baby. She rarely cried. She was always happy,” Lipscomb says. “As loving as she was, if there was anything close to being an angel, it felt like she was it.”

Her loss is still so fresh, and that’s why Lipscomb hopes someone has ears to hear her message before it’s too late for them—or their beloved.

“I hope I can say something to save someone else from this mountain of heartache.”

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