OLYMPIA — A Sultan couple’s passion and determination is making the state more aggressive in ensuring owners of rental properties put smoke alarms in their units and face consequences when they don’t.
Gerry and Bonnie Gibson stood alongside Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday as he signed a bill intended to boost the number of smoke detectors installed in rental dwellings and single-family homes. It also calls for fines of up to $5,000 if there is damage or deaths as a result of a fire in a rental unit without a device.
Enactment of Senate Bill 5284 concluded a three-year legislative mission begun after the death of their son, Greg “Gibby” Gibson, in a house fire in Shoreline in January 2016. That rental house did not have smoke alarms.
“We made it. It’s a wonderful end to our journey,” Gerry Gibson said moments after the bill signing. “We’re going to have more smoke alarms out there. We’re going to save lives.”
The couple presented the governor and First Lady Trudi Inslee with T-shirts emblazoned with “Smoke Alarms Save Lives,” the motto of the Gibsons’ nonprofit which installs smoke alarms for free. The shirts also have images of their son and his dog, Nino, as the heroes.
Bonnie Gibson described the bill signing as a bittersweet moment.
“It doesn’t bring our son back,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll prevent some families from going through what we’ve gone through.”
Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, who attended Kamiak High School at the same time as the Gibsons’ son, authored the Senate bill. Rep. Carolyn Eslick, R-Sultan, sponsored companion legislation in the House.
State law already requires smoke detection devices be installed in dwelling units built or manufactured in this state after Dec. 31, 1980. The law has required they be installed in all occupied units as well and says property owners and tenants can be fined $200 if they fail to keep a smoke alarm in working order.
The new law adds landlords and property sellers to those who could be fined $200 for not maintaining a smoke detection device.
It also contains a requirement that following any property sale, the seller must make sure there is at least one smoke detection device installed before the buyer or any other person can move in.
A property owner faces a $5,000 fine if they fail to install a smoke detection device and a fire causes property damage, personal injury, or death to a tenant or a member of a tenant’s household. Fire authorities are tasked with enforcing this provision.
Money from fines is to be deposited in a new Smoke Detection Device Awareness Account overseen by the state fire marshal. Those dollars will be used to raise awareness of the importance smoke alarms play in public safety.
Eslick cited the Gibsons’ perseverance as critical to reaching the finish line after three sessions of coming up short.
“It took a couple years to make it a priority for legislative leaders,” she said. “I thought it was going to be tough this year. But they have the passion and that’s what it takes to have a bill passed.”
The new law will be known as the Greg “Gibby” Gibson Home Fire Safety Act.
Get a free smoke alarm
The American Red Cross provides smoke alarms for free to those who cannot afford them. And they install them for those who are physically unable to do so.
You can make requests online at GetASmokeAlarm.org.
Gibby Home Fire Prevention, a nonprofit formed by Gerry and Bonnie Gibson, also provide and install smoke alarms at no cost.