UNI student helps buy smoke alarms in aunt's memory - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

UNI student helps buy smoke alarms in aunt's memory

Feb. 25, 2011 fire, 700 block Vinton in Waterloo Feb. 25, 2011 fire, 700 block Vinton in Waterloo

A Waterloo teenager is hoping to save lives, after a tragic loss of her own. Sandi Rasmussen, a 37-year-old mother of seven, died in a fatal house fire in February 2011.

Hollie Hampton started selling bracelets as part of a school project while attending East High school last year, and continued at UNI, where she now attends.  The project was a way to help her cope with the loss of her aunt, by designating the proceeds to help purchase smoke alarms.

Hampton vividly remembers standing outside her aunt, Sandi Rasmussen's, home, on a cold February morning nearly two years ago watching it burn to the ground, while not knowing if Rasmussen made it out safely.

"It's just a mess.  Everybody's crying," said Hampton.

The family's worst fears were later confirmed.  Rasmussen died inside her home from burns and smoke inhalation.

"We are all suffering because she's gone.  We don't get to see her smile.  This morning I was just driving down the interstate coming here to go to school, and all I could think about -- her voice just popped into my head.  Then I saw a cloud of smoke coming from one of the buildings, the smokestack, and all I could think of was the smoke that came out of her house, and I got teary eyed because I will never see her again," Hampton said.

In the fire's aftermath, Hampton's family learned a candle warmer started the blaze, and that there may have been a way her aunt's life could've been saved.

"Her smoke alarm wasn't going off at all," said Hampton.

To help ensure other families have access to working smoke detectors, Hampton recently donated all $300 in her bracelet sale proceeds to the Waterloo Fire Department.

"I don't want anybody to go through what my family has gone through since then," said Hampton.

Hampton's surprise gift will greatly benefit the fire department's smoke alarm program, which supplies families in need with both detectors and replacement batteries.

"Most of the funding that we've had in the past is gone now, and so any help we can get to get some money for that program is substantial for everybody," said Michael Moore, Waterloo Fire Battalion Chief.

No doubt, Hampton's gift will be a life-saving one. 

"To have a properly working smoke detector will absolutely, positively save lives," Moore said.

Hy-Vee also recently held a fundraiser to help the Waterloo Fire Department purchase replacement batteries for smoke alarms.  Supply is still limited, but if you need an alarm or battery, you're encouraged to call the department at (319) 291-4460.

The Waterloo Fire Department is also working to establish a door-to-door program in targeted areas of the community to help ensure families have working smoke detectors.

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