Elizabethton woman raises money for escape ladders after daughter, granddaughter die in fire


More than a year after the death of a young mother and her child in a Elizabethton apartment fire, an effort is underway to make sure that never happens again.

In November 2016, 20-year-old Dana Keeling and 3-year-old Sara Keeling died in a fire at the Elizabethton Public Housing Complex on Pine Ridge Circle.

They were both trapped in their apartment on the second floor, unable to get out when the fire filled the building.

Dana Keeling’s mother Emma Grindstaff said the pain hasn’t gone away since that November night, but she is determined to make sure other residents have a way out when sounds count.

“I’ll be honest with you, I was mad. I was angry,” Grindstaff said. “Which is natural to come with grief and it kept hitting me that if she had, had a ladder she could have got the girls out.”

Now she is turning that anger into action by raising money to buy escape ladders for the residents in the Elizabethton Public Housing Complex.

On Thursday, Grindstaff held a ladder training event and invited Elizabethton Fire Marshal Andy Hardin to teach the residents how to use the ladders in case of an emergency.

Grindstaff said it’s part of the “Safe Keeping Project in Honor of Dana and Sara.”

“I think it’s a great idea, I think it’s really good,” Hardin said. “You know what we like to see is the smoke detector, it let’s people know early, gives them plenty of time to get out of the home, but if you find yourself in a situation where you’re trapped on an upper floor, I think it’s a really good thing.”

Grindstaff said what literally began as a dream took a big step toward becoming a reality Thursday night.

“One night I was dreaming and I dreamed of Dana, we was in front of the building, her building and she said ‘Mama save the children,” Grindstaff said. “So the ladders kicked in.”

Miranda Whilee, a resident at the Elizabethton Public Housing Complex, said she has a 3-year-old daughter and can’t imagine what Grindstaff has gone through.

“She is amazing, because I can’t say that I could do it. I don’t think I could be as strong as she is so I really commend her, I really do,” Whilee said. “She is a good lady. I just hate that she had to lose her daughter and her baby.”

Grindstaff said she couldn’t save Dana and Sara’s lives but she can save the lives of others with these ladders.

She said so far she has raised enough money to purchase more than 100 ladders with the help from Big John’s Closeout, a business selling the ladders to her at a reduced cost.

She’s trying to raise money to buy more ladders for residents who live on the second floor of the apartment complex.

Grindstaff said she will be at the Lovers Lane Flea Market in Elizabethton this Friday and Saturday to raise money for these ladders.

Copyright WJHL 2018. All rights reserved.

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