Gerry and Bonnie Gibson enjoy the morning sun from their back yard on the Skykomish River in Sultan on Tuesday. The Gibsons never planned to spend their retirement installing smoke alarms in homes, but they have been helping the Red Cross do exactly that since Jan. 8, 2016, when a house fire took the life of their son, Greg “Gibby” Gibson, 36, a musician, and his dog, Nino. His death could have been prevented, Gerry said, with a smoke alarm. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Gerry and Bonnie Gibson enjoy the morning sun from their back yard on the Skykomish River in Sultan on Tuesday. The Gibsons never planned to spend their retirement installing smoke alarms in homes, but they have been helping the Red Cross do exactly that since Jan. 8, 2016, when a house fire took the life of their son, Greg “Gibby” Gibson, 36, a musician, and his dog, Nino. His death could have been prevented, Gerry said, with a smoke alarm. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Tragedy inspired parents to evangelize for smoke detectors

After their son, Greg Gibson, died in a house fire, Gerry and Bonnie Gibson sounded the alarm.

SULTAN — There are reminders of Greg “Gibby” Gibson everywhere in his parents’ handsome home along the Skykomish River.

Upstairs, on one wall, are his drumsticks and a cymbal. A photo shows a band performing at Tony V’s Garage in Everett, but in place of the missing drummer is a shimmering light. In other pictures, Greg is a kid along the river with his sisters, and a young man with his dog. His mother has a scarf with “Seattle Ska Fest 2016” stitched on one side and “RIP Greg 1979-2016” on the other.

Gibson, 36, and his loyal pit bull, Nino, were killed Jan. 8, 2016, in a Shoreline house fire.

“It was unnecessary, avoidable and we’re trying to teach everybody else that it is,” said Gerry Gibson, Greg’s 70-year-old father.

He and his wife, Bonnie Gibson, honor their son and promote safety through Gibby Home Fire Prevention, a nonprofit they founded after Greg’s death. Working with the American Red Cross, since March 2016 they have installed about 1,800 free smoke alarms.

Gerry and Bonnie Gibson will be recognized, along with other honorees, at the Red Cross Heroes Breakfast on Thursday at Tulalip Resort Casino. The annual fundraising event supports the work of the Red Cross serving Snohomish County.

Greg “Gibby” Gibson

Greg “Gibby” Gibson

Greg Gibson, a 1998 graduate of Kamiak High School, was a musician and music promoter who had played drums in several bands, including The Sky Rained Heroes. With the Kamiak band, he played at President Bill Clinton’s 1996 inauguration parade and traveled to Disneyland.

He and Nino were asleep in a daylight basement room of a Shoreline rental house when an electrical fire broke out. Four others upstairs were able to escape, Gerry Gibson said. There wasn’t a working smoke detector where Greg Gibson died.

His two older sisters, Emily Bennett and Colleen Rowe, “wanted to do something,” Gerry Gibson said. “Putting in smoke detectors seemed like the logical thing.” As the family created Gibby Home Fire Prevention, they also learned about a Red Cross campaign to reduce fire deaths and injuries.

“We partner with the Red Cross. They furnish 90 percent of the smoke alarms,” Gerry Gibson said. Helpers with their nonprofit, along with Red Cross volunteers, install the sealed smoke alarms, which with lithium batteries have a 10-year life. “When it’s free there’s no excuse,” Gibson added.

Education is part of their mission, and they attend health and safety fairs. “We talk about fire escape plans,” said Bonnie Gibson, 69. “People should diagram a floorplan, but it has to be practiced.”

Gerry Gibson holds a T-shirt bearing his and Bonnie’s nonprofit company message and logo with “Gibby” and his dog, Nino, as the heroes. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Gerry Gibson holds a T-shirt bearing his and Bonnie’s nonprofit company message and logo with “Gibby” and his dog, Nino, as the heroes. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Greg Gibson loved superheroes. Childhood birthdays often meant seeing a much anticipated superhero movie. When they’re out installing smoke detectors, the Gibsons wear shirts with their nonprofit’s logo. It’s a caped superhero likeness of their son, with goatee and glasses, carrying a fire extinguisher and accompanied by a cape-wearing dog.

“We wanted to make Greg and Nino into superheroes,” Bonnie Gibson said. When she talks about what happened to her son, “I don’t tell people to make them feel bad,” she said. It’s to hammer home a message — smoke alarms save lives.

They have installed the devices in houses, apartments and mobile homes. And on their nonprofit’s website and elsewhere online, they find thank yous.

“Gibby, I’ve never met you,” a Snohomish woman wrote on the Tributes website. “But your dad came today and installed four smoke alarms in my house in your honor. I’m on disability with a very limited income, and couldn’t have afforded them otherwise. You don’t know it, but you may have saved my life!”

Gerry Gibson is retired after a career as a special agent with the federal Department of Health and Human Services. His wife is a registered nurse who retired from Group Health.

Beyond installing smoke alarms, the Gibsons have pushed for changes in the law.

During the 2017 legislative session, Gerry Gibson worked with then-state Sen. Kirk Pearson, a Monroe Republican who has since been appointed to a U.S. Department of Agriculture position. The aim was passage of a bill that would compel a rental’s owner to certify compliance with fire safety requirements before getting insurance.

“It didn’t get out of committee,” said Gibson. He hopes the bill and a companion measure in the House will advance during the 2018 session.

He also has written to U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, all Washington Democrats, about requiring current smoke alarm compliance in all federal subsidized housing, where millions of children, elderly and disabled people live.

For 17 years, the Gibsons have lived along the Skykomish. Their Sultan home is a stone’s throw from the picnic and camping place Gerry Gibson visited as a boy when his dad, a Seattle police officer, bought riverfront property.

Now, rather than enjoying lives of leisure, they work to spare others their family’s pain.

“Retirement is different than I thought it would be,” Gerry Gibson said. “The whole idea is to save a life.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Learn more

Information about American Red Cross serving Snohomish County: www.redcross.org/local/washington/chapters/snohomish-county

Information about Gibby Home Fire Prevention: www.gibbyhomefireprevention.org

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