After two fatal fires last month, Owensboro fire officials are reminding the public about the importance of smoke detectors and fire safety habits.

James Howard, Owensboro Fire Department chief, said smoke detectors do not prevent fires but are still important.

"They don't prevent fires, but they do provide warning and are an essential aspect of an escape plan from any home when there is a fire incident," he said at a Tuesday Owensboro City Commission meeting.

Howard's reminder comes after three people have died from two house fires within the last month.

The first fatal fire happened Dec. 14 on the 100 block of Plum Street. Larry Anthony Conder, 52, was found collapsed and unconscious in a hallway of his home at the time. OFD firefighters rescued Conder and performed CPR until ambulance crews arrived and took over. Conder was taken to Owensboro Health Regional Hospital and was later transferred to the University of Louisville. He died Jan. 1 and suffered smoke inhalation and burns in the fire.

The second fatal fire happened Dec. 27 on Kipling Drive. Shelby Lashbrook, 82, died Jan. 4 and her husband, David Lashbrook, 77, died Dec. 29. Fire officials believe the fire started in the rear of the house. The Lashbrooks had to be rescued from their home.

Both fires remain under investigation, Howard said Tuesday. Howard could not confirm if there were smoke detectors in the home.

Howard said using interconnected alarms, having battery backups, placing detectors on the ceiling or high on a wall and replacing the detectors regularly are ways to maintain smoke detectors once installed.

"You need to be replacing those things after they get about 10 years old," he said.

The OFD has a program to provide and install smoke detectors in homes for free for those who cannot afford them. Howard said the program is income-level based but was doubtful the fire department would reject those who wanted a smoke detector.

"I can't see a scenario where we would say 'no' if someone wants a smoke detector in their home," he said.

Keeping appliances maintained and using careful cooking habits are ways to prevent fires, Howard said. According to the National Fire Protection Association, working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in reported home fires nearly in half. More information about fire safety can be found online at nfpa.org.

Trey Crumbie, 270-691-7297, tcrumbie@messenger-inquirer.com

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