JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - Something you might not know, eight people have died in fires already in 2013 in Tennessee, that's according to the State's Fire Marshal. But here's an even scarier statistic: two of those deaths were right here in Johnson City and the Fire Chief says that number is too high.
News 5 did some digging and learned according to the U.S. Fire Administration, Tennessee ranks number seven among the top ten states with the highest number of fire deaths in 2009.
The yellow tape still surrounds a home on East Watauga Avenue, and it's a bitter reminder for Gary Carr's five-year-old granddaughter. A fire consumed the home back in December killing his neighbor, 57-year-old Gary Schill. "She was the one that woke up and saw the fire and got us up, adrenaline running through my body again," said Carr.
But there's a scary statistic steadily climbing in Johnson City, Fire Chief Mark Scott says in the last 13-months a total of seven people have died in a fire. "The numbers are, they're high. They're definitely high for a city our size and I think it goes back to awareness," said Chief Scott.
In fact, Chief Scott says in these fires only one home had a working smoke detector and the lack of smoke detectors is becoming a dangerous trend throughout the community. "What we're finding is a lot of people don't have smoke detectors and then there are other instances where we find the battery has been removed," he added.
So to solve this problem, firefighters have been actively handing out free smoke detectors with a battery life of 10-years. "Lives could be saved, property could be protected for $15 a smoke detector," added Chief Scott.
Back on East Watauga Avenue, Carr says he has at least six smoke detectors in his home and the death of his neighbor has been a tough lesson for everyone, "They're checking their smoke alarms, updating their smoke alarms, or getting better batteries."
From Virginia to Tennessee, other fire departments in our region have similar programs and are passing out free smoke detectors. Firefighters say the best advice if you have questions is to call your local fire department.