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Campaign leads to more working smoke detectors

TVF and R targets Summerfield after 2011 fatal townhome fire
by: Barbara Sherman, FREE LUNCH — Dick Bernhard (right) won a drawing for lunch with TVF&R firefighters, and one of the friends he brought along to the King City station was Bob Nottingham.

An early morning fatal fire on Feb. 20, 2011, in a Summerfield townhome has led to many more residents now having working smoke alarms to prevent a similar occurrence.

As part of a campaign to get people to use smoke alarms, one lucky Summerfield resident won lunch for himself and friends at Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue's King City Station 35.

An elderly woman perished in the 2011 fire, with the cause of the fire found to be an improperly extinguished cigarette, and the cause of death was smoke inhalation.

Smoke alarms were found in the townhouse unit; however, due to the aggressive nature of the fire, TVF and R investigators could not determine if they were working or not.

The day after the fire, TVF and R crews and staff visited approximately 30 homes in the immediate vicinity of the fatal fire to answer questions, provide safety information, and most importantly, check smoke alarms.

Of the smoke alarms tested that day, approximately 25 percent were found to be non-operable. Crews installed a working smoke alarm in each of those homes, and staff began working on a safety campaign to educate Summerfield residents on the deadly dangers of smoke and fire.

Soon after, Diane Poorman, chairwoman of the Summerfield Civic Association's Neighborhood Watch Committee, and Lysa Vattimo, TVF and R public affairs officer, met to discuss ways to educate residents on fire safety and the importance of life-saving working smoke alarms.

Summerfield and TVF and R staff come up with a campaign that the association could use to educate its 1,600-plus residents on how they could create a safer community.

Throughout the campaign, the staffs encouraged residents to help each other by asking a neighbor, friend or family member to help them check their smoke alarms and/or replace them with the new, 10-year battery smoke alarms.

In addition to monthly articles on smoke alarm and fire safety in the "Summerfield Summary," Neighborhood Watch block captains and area coordinators began knocking on doors to encourage residents to check their smoke alarms, and they distributed TVF and R smoke alarm and fire escape planning materials.

When residents attended Summerfield group events, group leaders asked them if they had checked their smoke alarms and provided them with the safety information.

"Responding to emergencies with speed and skill will always be core to what we do," said TVF and R Chief Mike Duyck. "However, our employees and volunteers work every day to prevent future emergencies by identifying and reducing conditions in the community that increase the risk of fire and injury.

"For decades, TVF and R has been committed to creating safer communities through public education and prevention, and committed to partnering with our citizens in preventing emergencies from occurring. We enthusiastically support the efforts that the Summerfield Civic Association is making to ensure (its) residents have working smoke alarms."

The Summerfield Civic Association also shared the information with its networking group for age 55-plus homeowners' associations throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington.

"It was very encouraging to hear that each of our fellow HOAs had done similar campaigns," said Cari Froeber, Summerfield administrator. "The more reminders we hear, the better."

As an added incentive for Summerfield residents to check their smoke alarms, TVF and R held a drawing with the winner getting lunch with local firefighters. Residents filled out short questionnaires and submitted their entries for a chance to win.

In March 2012, a winning entry was drawn, and long-time resident Dick Bernhard was notified that he won a lunch with firefighters at King City Station 35 on Pacific Highway.

On his entry form, Bernhard stated that he checked his smoke alarms every week, but many of the entry forms revealed that some residents still had questions or concerns about their smoke alarms.

Captain Troy Spisla from Station 35 followed up with those residents personally.