After losing their son Greg in a house fire in January of this year, Sultan residents Gerry and Bonnie Gibson decided to see what they could do to ensure what happened to their son didn't happen to anybody else.
They teamed up with their daughters, Colleen Rowe and Emily Gibson Bennett, and Greg's partner Ben Arao, and founded the Gibby Home Fire Prevention Campaign, a nonprofit dedicated to smoke alarm awareness and fire prevention education. The mission of the organization is to save at least one life by helping to ensure that everyone has access to working smoke alarms.
Greg, a well-known Seattle musician and promoter, may have been able to escape his burning Shoreline home had there been working smoke alarms to alert him to the fire. He and his dog, Nino, were both killed in the fire, which occurred in the early morning hours on Jan. 8. The cause of death was smoke inhalation.-á -á
So far, the campaign has been involved in three safety fairs and has performed five smoke alarm installation events, teaming up with the Red Cross to install free smoke detectors in people's homes.
The group's efforts caught the attention of Sultan Grants and Economic Development Coordinator Donna Murphy, who featured the Gibby Home Fire Prevention Campaign during the May Volunteer Spotlight. Sultan's Volunteer Spotlight is a monthly honor given to an individual or group for making a difference in the community.
Volunteer Spotlight recipients are recognized by Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick in front of the Sultan City Council, and given a certificate of appreciation. The Gibsons were presented with the honor during the May 26 Sultan City Council meeting. Murphy introduced Gerry and Bonnie Gibson, giving the council an overview of Gerry's community involvement.
Gerry, a federal agent for 23 years, moved to Sultan after he retired in 2001. He became a community activist, tackling numerous issues over the years, never afraid to stand up for what he believed in. He fought to keep the Sultan Police Department intact, was instrumental in Sultan's recent population allocation reduction and recently spearheaded an effort to spur an investigation into what was causing high bacterial counts in the Skykomish River.
A tenacious investigator, Gerry put his skills and training to work after a local Sky Valley resident drained more than $90,000 from the Sultan Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post No. 2554 bank account. He aided in the police investigation, and led the effort to have the funds reimbursed by the post's bonding company.
Gerry is a Vietnam veteran and an active member of the VFW, while Bonnie serves with the VFW Auxiliary. The two help post Sultan's Main Street flags during patriotic holidays and other special events, rising before the sun to place them and returning in the evening to retire them.
In January, Gerry was appointed to the Snohomish County Veterans Assistance Fund Executive Board, a county board dedicated to providing assistance to honorably discharged veterans in need.
After Greg died, the Gibsons added fire prevention education to their repertoire. In addition to founding the Gibby Home Fire Prevention Campaign nonprofit, Gerry has approached 39th District Sen. Kirk Pearson with an idea for legislation that would ensure every home has working smoke alarms. Pearson's aid, Cameron Bailey, let Gerry know in May that Pearson was interested in moving forward with the idea, and was in the process of communicating with the appropriate committee members.
After Murphy's introduction, she asked Gerry to come forward and say a few words about the campaign.
Gerry thanked the city for the honor, and said the Gibby Home Fire Prevention Campaign appreciated the recognition. Rowe and Arao were unable to attend the meeting, so Gerry, Bonnie and Bennett accepted the certificate, along with three of Gerry and Bonnie's grandchildren.-á -á -á -á -á -á -á -á -á -á -á -á -á -á -á -á -á -á -á
"It's been a difficult five months,GÇ¥ Gerry said. "Getting the word out about smoke alarms has really become a mission for us ' and it's so important. A smoke alarm, they say, only gives you an extra two minutes, but we wish we had that two minutes for Greg.GÇ¥
So far in Sultan, they have spent time installing free smoke alarms in Sultan homes, including the Wallace River Park in Startup and Cherry Hill Mobile Estates in Sultan. Recently at Cherry Hill, Gerry explained that they were introduced to a resident who has difficulty hearing, so they secured a specialized smoke alarm designed to alert individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing in the case of an emergency.
Eslick thanked the Gibsons for their efforts and asked about the proposed law.
The idea for the legislation was a direct result of his experiences after Greg's fire. Gerry wanted to come up with an enforceable policy that would help ensure all homes have functioning smoke alarms, so he began researching the topic. One thing he found frustrating after Greg's fire was that even though the city of Shoreline had municipal code requiring smoke alarms, there didn't appear to be any enforcement.
He engaged in extensive correspondence with Shoreline city staff, encouraging them to consider issuing a citation to the owner of Greg's home, since the property was in violation by not having any working smoke alarms. But since the city was unaware of the code violations at the time of the fire, they were not inclined to do so.
It was during this process that his idea formed and evolved. He decided to start at the top, assuming a broader approach would be more effective than attempting to navigate each individual city's code and code enforcement protocols.
His proposal involves the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner, which is the governmental agency tasked with insurance company oversight. The law would require a homeowner to certify they have working smoke alarms in their home each time homeowners insurance is issued or renewed. If a house fire was to occur and the home did not have working smoke alarms, the insurance company wouldn't have to pay.
The certification process would require a homeowner to provide a signature stating the property to be insured has smoke alarms that are working and code compliant.
It's got built-in incentive, and there are no costs for implementation, except to the homeowner, Gibson said. Most homeowners want to have smoke alarms anyway, he pointed out, and this just gives them some additional motivation to do so.
"You won't be covered unless you do,GÇ¥ Gerry said. "We thought that was the simplest way to approach it.GÇ¥
For more information about the Gibby Home Fire Prevention Campaign, visit www.gibbyhomefireprevention.org/home.html.Photos by Chris Hendrickson Approximately 75 people turned up at the Lake Tye Park last week to celebrate the ground-breaking of the American Legion Arthur Kincaid Post No. 58GÇÖs new Veterans Memorial. Photo by Chris Hendrickson Back: From left,Emily Gibson Bennett, Gerry Gibson, Bonnie Gibson and Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick. Front: Grandchildren Mikayla Sullivan, Quentin Richer and Angelica Bennett.