After Losing Son in House Fire, Couple Try to Save Others

"You don’t think of your children dying in a house fire. You worry about them for others reasons, but not that'
Andrew Thomas September 1, 2018

Losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. After experiencing this tragedy, one couple is driven to do the best they can to make sure others don’t suffer a similar fate.

Gerry and Bonnie Gibson of Snohomish County, Washington, lost their adult son Greg in a house fire on January 8, 2016. Greg and his dog were asleep in his basement when an electrical fire broke out.

There was no smoke alarm in the house, and Greg never woke up. He and his dog perished in the fire.

Greg was only 36 years old.

“I don’t think of him as a man. He was my son. He was my boy,” Bonnie told Humanity.

Greg Gibson. (Courtesy of Gretta Gustafson)

Many people don’t think about smoke alarms, and see them as mundane or an inconvenience. However, they are exactly the opposite.

Three out of five house fire fatalities occur in homes without a working smoke alarm.

The death rate for every 100 house fires in homes without a smoke alarm is twice as high as in homes with a smoke alarm.

“It was totally earthshaking for us. We didn’t even think to ever ask him if it had smoke alarms. You don’t think of your children dying in a house fire. You worry about them for others reasons, but not that,” Bonnie said.

The Gibson family felt they had to do something to help prevent another avoidable tragedy from happening to another family.

The Gibson’s daughters, Emily Bennett and Colleen Rowe, came up with an idea. That’s when the family started Gibby Home Fire Prevention in February 2016.

Gibby Home Fire Prevention logo, featuring Greg Gibson and his dog. (Courtesy of Greta Gustafson)

Gibby Home Fire Prevention is a non-profit organization that provides free smoke alarm installations and fire safety instruction.

The organization has partnered with the Red Cross to reach even more  people.

Gerry, Bonnie, and their volunteers go into various communities in Washington state to install free smoke alarms.

The also educate people about what to do in the event of a house fire, and how to form an escape plan.

Having a plan is particularly important for children, as they will often become afraid in the event of a fire and will hide, making rescue efforts even more difficult.

In the event of a house fire, residents only have 2 minutes to escape before their chances of survival begin to plummet.

“Two thing save lives: Working smoke alarms and an escape plan that’s practiced,” Bonnie explained.

First and foremost, if residents are able to escape they should exit their home as quickly as possible.

If residents can’t escape they should go to a window and try to garner attention.

The first thing a firefighter will do is walk around the perimeter of the home, and if they see someone trapped inside, they will notice and immediately try to rescue them.

The Gibsons have installed over 2,000 smoke alarms, and they’ve saved lives.

Gerry recalled a woman whose oven suffered an electrical failure and it began smoking. She was getting ready for work when her smoke alarm went off.

She was able to quickly get her fire extinguisher and put out the fire. Had she not had a smoke alarm, the situation could have turned out much worse.

The residents the Gibsons are able to help are grateful for their volunteer service and their care for complete strangers.

For the Gibsons, they just want to prevent people from experiencing a similar tragedy to theirs.

“It’s rewarding. The whole idea is to save a life. We know what it’s like to lose somebody close, and unnecessarily. If we can we can help somebody else do that, that’s what were doing,” Gerry explained.