For Sultan residents Bonnie and Gerry Gibson, it’s about finding a way.
It’s about finding a way to accept the loss of their son, Greg “Gibby” Gibson, who died in an early-morning home fire in January of 2016. It’s about finding a way to turn grief into action, after learning that Greg’s home – a rental – had no working smoke alarms. It’s about finding a way to make sure that what happened to their son doesn’t happen to anybody else.
For Bonnie and Gerry, that way is their nonprofit, the Gibby Home Fire Prevention organization, which they founded with their daughters, Colleen Rowe and Emily Bennett, shortly after Greg’s death. Their goal is to save at least one life through the installation of free smoke alarms to anyone in need. They’ve collaborated extensively with the American Red Cross, which in addition to providing the smoke alarms, helped show them the ropes during the first official Gibby Home Fire Prevention installation event, held in March 2016. Since then, the Gibsons have installed a total of 1,821 free smoke alarms, mostly inside Sky Valley homes.
In recognition of all they’ve accomplished, the Red Cross honored them as Community Heroes during the 2017 Red Cross Snohomish County Heroes Breakfast, held at the Tulalip Resort and Casino on Thursday, December 7. Hosted by Emmy-winning KING-5 anchorman Mark Wright, the event recognized 10 different groups and individuals for their heroic deeds and lifesaving efforts.
“Today we have come together to celebrate the courageous and selfless actions of local heroes, and to raise the much-needed awareness and funds for the lifesaving and humanitarian mission of the American Red Cross,” Wright said. “This organization touches so many lives.”
The Red Cross produced brief video documentaries to outline each Heroes Award recipient’s story.
The Gibsons’ story starts with Greg.
Greg was a vibrant, well-known Seattle area musician and band promoter with a dynamic personality. He was known for having a free spirit and a candid charm that was amplified by his remarkable zest for life. He was sleeping close to his dog Nino in his basement room when the fire broke out, the two never waking up. From the moment the Gibsons arrived on scene and discovered that there had been no working smoke alarms in Greg’s Shoreline rental home, their grief began to render as purpose, spurred by an intense desire to make sure that what happened to Greg would not happen to anybody else.
The organization’s logo is an image of Greg and his dog Nino, dressed up like superheroes.
The documentary showed Gerry, a retired federal agent and veteran of the U.S. military, manning the drill during an alarm installation, while Bonnie chatted with a homeowner about the importance of establishing an evacuation route. In addition to residential smoke alarm installations, the Gibsons participate during local safety fairs and other events meant to promote awareness of fire safety and the importance of smoke alarms.
“We know that smoke alarms save lives,” Gerry said.
Gerry credited his daughters for coming up with the idea to form a nonprofit, and thanked the Red Cross Snohomish County Chapter for its help and guidance as they began their outreach. It’s amazing how many residences don’t have the required number of smoke alarms, Gerry said. They encounter homes where the smoke alarms have been disconnected, homes with smoke alarms that are disabled due to missing batteries and homes without any smoke alarms at all.
It’s something the Gibsons have encountered so frequently, it made them want to do more.
During the summer of 2016, Gerry began working with former 39th District Sen. Kirk Pearson, to see if there was something they could do on a legislative level. His idea was to find a way to compel property owners to comply with current Washington State Uniform Building Code regulations, which call for a smoke alarm in each sleeping area of a home. The result was Senate Bill (SB) 5082, which requires rental property owners to certify compliance with current fire safety standards relevant to the installation of smoke alarms, prior to issuance or renewal of an insurance policy.
They traveled to Olympia in January of this year to champion the bill, testifying in front of the Senate Committee on Financial Institutions and Insurance. Unfortunately, SB 5082 stalled in committee, and never made it to the floor for a vote. Gerry hopes for a different outcome next year, and is busy preparing for the 2018 legislative session. He recently met with 39th District Representative Carolyn Eslick, who agreed to sponsor a companion bill in the House. Having a companion bill can serve to streamline the process, helping new laws pass quicker.
And thanks to Greg and who he was, the Gibsons’ 2018 legislative efforts are off to an encouraging start.
While Gerry and Bonnie knew that their son was enthusiastic, creative, energetic and well-loved by his friends, the depth of the outpouring upon his death didn’t fail to astound them. Greg’s impact on the music scene extended well beyond Seattle, as musicians from as far away as Japan mourned his loss. Like the Skykomish River that flows vast and free just beyond the Gibsons’ back yard, the breadth of Greg’s impact on those around him was remarkable. It’s an impact that continues to reveal itself, emerging in new and sometimes unexpected ways.
Recently featured in the Daily Herald, the Gibsons’ story caught the attention of 21st District Sen. Marko Liias, who is interested in taking the lead on SB 5082 in the 2018 session.
Senator Liias was moved by the story, wrote Executive Legislative Assistant Curt Kohlwes in an email to Gerry.
“Marko was actually classmates with Greg at Kamiak High School, and would like to take over this Legislative effort in his memory,” wrote Kohlwes. “With Sen. Pearson resigning, Marko would like to reintroduce SB 5082 and work toward bipartisan support for passage.”
Gerry is additionally working with federal legislators in hopes of serving federal subsidized housing units, which routinely lack the mandated number of smoke alarms. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), many homes fail to meet the minimum number of required smoke alarms because they were built to earlier standards. Homes built in the 1980s didn’t require as many smoke alarms as today’s homes, but this doesn’t change the fact that all homes should comply with current regulations.
“Eleven million people need smoke alarms in their bedrooms,” Gibson said. “So, thank you, Red Cross, for helping us do this.”
The Gibsons were the final honor of a morning filled with inspiring stories of bravery, determination and heroism. Established in 1996, the American Red Cross Heroes Breakfast is one of the nonprofit’s most well-known fundraising events, raising public awareness and funding to support the nonprofit’s efforts, while honoring local heroes and celebrating Red Cross volunteers. This year’s event welcomed over 700 community members who came together to applaud the Red Cross and its honorees.
In his closing statements, Wright said that he felt inspired by every person in the room, as so many of them have demonstrated a profound willingness to go above and beyond to serve their communities.
“Gerry and Bonnie Gibson turned tragedy into saving lives,” Wright said. “It’s amazing what they’re doing.”
The Sky Valley had a significant presence during the ceremony. Gold Bar resident Amanda Rockwell was honored, along with Snohomish County Fire District 26 Firefighters Robin Vargas and Garrett Stich, and District 7 firefighter Brandon Vargas.
For more information about Gibby Home Fire Prevention, or to schedule a smoke alarm installation at your home, please visit: Gibby Home Fire Prevention official Facebook.