Mom makes smoke detectors her life's mission after losing her daughter in a fatal fire

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - Terri Jackson can't move very far in her Overland Park home without running into a memory of her daughter Taylor. The 8-year-old girl whom she affectionately nicknamed "Bug" shares her infectious smile in every photograph.

"She was an angel here on earth, just as she is an angel in Heaven now," Terri said.

Taylor has been gone a year and a half now, but Terri's pain is still all too real. It seems like it was yesterday.

October 1, 2011 was a Saturday. Like many Saturdays, Taylor had plans with her best friend just a few doors down from their duplex on West 86th Street.

"She asked her to come over and spend the night like she had tons of times," Terri explained.

But this would be the last time. Terri, recovering from surgery, was spending the evening with some friends when she got the news.

"I just got a call saying there's been an accident, they're taking her to the hospital. I didn't quite understand what was going on or the extent, until I got to the hospital," she said

Terri actually arrived at the same time as the ambulance. She knew something was seriously wrong when she saw them doing CPR.

Everyone made it out alive, expect Taylor. The 3rd grader from Apache Elementary School was gone.

"The fire broke out," she said slowly. "An electrical fire in the attic. Her friend couldn't wake her up. She went downstairs to try and find her mom, and got her mom and got some other neighbors. And by the time they…they just couldn't make it." 

Devastating news for Terri made worse when she learned the home had no working smoke alarms.

"Not something you expect when you send your child to someone's house to spend the night," she exclaimed.

Terri learned just how deadly smoke can be. She was told Taylor had become disoriented, something hard for her to comprehend.

"The duplex she was staying in was set up exactly like ours!" Terri explained. "I mean floor plan to the T. So, smoke can overcome."

Fire, smoke and the importance of smoke detectors is a lesson shared by every fire department in every city. Trisha Roberts is the Public Education Specialist with the Overland Park Fire Department.

"I think there's not a program out there that I don't talk about smoke alarms. Even to our little bitty kids, I'm talking about smoke alarms," Roberts said.

There is a common misconception that all smoke alarms are created equal. There are actually three different types sold in stores.

Some people may not have the protection in their homes that they think they do.

"We like the dual sensing smoke alarms better, because it protects you from two different fires," Roberts said. "And in a fire, every second counts."

The alarms are based on two different technologies. Photoelectric alarms detect smoldering fires faster. Those are the ones that produce heavy smoke.

However, the alarm found in most homes uses Ionization technology best for fast flaming fires. Dual sensing smoke alarms combine the two technologies.

To show you just how different they are, we partnered with our fellow Scripps stations for a test. We bought two brands of each one, numbered them and put them to the test in a vacant home. Firefighters started a smoldering fire in the living room.

Four minutes after the first sign of smoke, the first alarm sounds, a Photoelectric alarm. The second Photoelectric alarm sounds 51 seconds later. The Dual technology alarms follow.

The Ionization alarms used in 90 percent of homes remained silent for an additional 9.2 minutes after our first alarm sounded. That is more than 13 minutes after our first signs of smoke.

The Overland Park Fire Department recommends both technologies, noting that when there is a fire, every second counts.

"Fire doubles in size every 30 seconds. Some studies are now showing that it might even be faster than that," Roberts explained. "It's just a matter of seconds. You need to get out of your house as quickly as possible."

Today Terri Jackson encourages parents to talk fire safety with other parents, especially if their little ones are spending the night elsewhere.

"Check to make sure their smoke detectors are working," she said s. "Ask if they have a fire safety, fire evacuation plan."

She also created a Facebook campaign: "Taylor Your Home 4 Safety." It won't bring Taylor back, but she says a few simple questions could save another family from losing their child.

"A lot of people think about asking are there guns, you know, is the alcohol put away? Drugs? Anything? But you don't think about a smoke detector Hey, have you checked it? Have you changed your batteries?" she said.

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