Number of smoke detectors installed since Feb. 6 Friendsville fire exceeds 275

By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

If one positive thing has come from the Feb. 6 house fire that took the lives of four Friendsville children, it is the awareness that smoke detectors and a fire plan can save a life.

Since the day after the Feb. 6 fire through Tuesday, Feb. 13, fire personnel from Blount, Maryville and Alcoa fire departments have installed more than 275 smoke detectors.

Killed in the Feb. 6 fire were Mandy Mason, 14; J.T. Debuty, 12; Sinjin Smith, 10; and Shelby Debuty, 7. Parents Ross and Amanda Debuty were able to get out of the wood-frame house with Raymond Debuty, 3.

The Debuty family indicated there were smoke detectors in their home on the day of the fire. From all indications, the detectors were not working, officials said.

"We’ve tried real hard to get something positive coming out in memory of these kids," Blount County Fire Chief Doug McClanahan said. "Maybe we can save a life because of what’s going on."

"From Wednesday morning (Feb. 7) to today (Feb. 12) I’m going to guess we have probably put up 250 detectors, maybe more, and we’re probably still 50 detectors behind contacting people and putting detectors up," McClanahan said.

McClanahan said his staff has gone as far away as Sevierville trying to find smoke detectors to buy. Money also has been donated to buy the detectors. "Ruby Tuesday kicked in money to buy detectors and private donations have come in," he

Alcoa Fire Chief Roger Robinson echoed those thoughts. "Yes, it’s picked up. Since last Wednesday, we’ve put up 25 smoke detectors and changed out 12 batteries on smoke detectors that were still good," he said.

Maryville Deputy Fire Chief David Hodges said his fire department also had been deluged with calls for smoke detectors and had installed 40 smoke detectors since Feb. 7. "We’ve been putting in so many smoke detectors that we ran out once and had to buy some more. We’re still installing," he said. "We’ve had a smoke detector program in Maryville since 1997, and, in that program, we’ve installed over 3,000 smoke detectors."

McClanahan said that on the day after the Feb. 6 fire, he spoke with Blount County Schools director Alvin Hord, and it was decided a memo would go out to all elementary school teachers requesting they send a letter asking parents if their homes had smoke detectors. If they didn’t, they were instructed to contact the Blount County fire department for one to be installed.

"On the high school level, we asked the teachers to ask the students. Mr. Hord said he thought it was a good thing and put out a memo immediately," the chief said.

McClanahan said his personnel then followed up on the memo by contacting the principals. "We called Maryville, Alcoa, Greenback and Townsend, and they did the same things in their schools," he said.

Response to the county plea has been overwhelming. McClanahan said his department has had to ask for help from other departments, who have also been asking for assistance because of the high number of calls for smoke detectors. "We’ve
asked each other. The phone continues to ring and faxes continue coming in for people needing a detector or needing a new battery," he said. "This has had a big impact on the community."

Robinson said it is common to get calls from citizens for smoke detectors after a house fire, "but not like it has been this time," he said. "It’s because four children died and that has really weighed on people. That’s played a big part"

Hodges said that with all the area fire departments’ smoke detector programs in place, people don’t have an excuse for not having one.

"We’ll give it to you, put it up and maintain it. All we ask is you let us know," he said. "We don’t want to ever see such a
tragedy as this happen again in our county."

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