Washington couple saved by smoke alarms

By Emily Thornton

Kathleen Dilworth with Westport Fire Chief Dennis Benn and Battalion Chief Daryl Brown

She said she awoke to the sound of a smoke alarm and fumes filling her 1930s-era home in Grayland near the Washington coastline. But as Kathleen Dilworth moved toward the back door to escape, she realized her husband, James, had merely overcooked something on the stove. 

It wasn’t really much of a fire, she said, but the intensity of the smoke filled her asthmatic lungs and she struggled for air. It was then she realized the scenario in mid-December could have been worse. Much worse. 

But the two newly-installed smoke detectors — courtesy of a partnership between the American Red Cross and local fire departments, among others — had alerted her to a possible catastrophe. They allowed her time to escape, if needed. 

This year, Sound the Alarm — part of the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign — runs from April 18 to May 30. It is meant to further promote free smoke alarm installation in homes, as home fires kill seven people daily (according to http://www.redcross.org/sound-the-alarm).

The Dilworths were helped by the Home Fire Campaign after daughter Tracy Bodnar insisted they get smoke detectors in December. 

Within minutes of the food catching fire, firefighters and medics from Pacific County Fire District 5 North Cove Fire Department, the same people who set up the detectors, arrived. They placed large fans in the home to blow out the smoke, and the front and back doors were opened to allow the nearby sea breeze inside.

Kathleen Dilworth also said paramedics ensured she could breathe easily before departing. She was grateful.

“I had an escape plan, but I didn’t actually have to leave,” Dilworth said. “And I didn’t have to go to the hospital.”

She added firefighters stayed at least an hour. “These guys are great up here,” she said.

Mrs. Dilworth said she knew the home needed smoke alarms, as it had none before she arrived. Since moving into the antique home near the beach, the Dilworths have encountered many problems, according to Bodnar. 

“There’s something going on with that house,” Tracy Bodnar said. “It seems like a lot of the electrical wiring is wrong.”

Bodnar said her mother, now 65, has multiple health issues which forced her to retire early several years ago, and James has an illness. These prompted Bodnar to look after her mother’s health more closely.

She said she worries about them being alone most of the day. The isolation could lead to other issues, such as fires.

“Elderly people are at a higher risk,” Bodnar said of home fires. 

Among those who help look after those elderly people is local Fire Chief Dennis Benn, who said his department has responded to the Dilworths’ home several times. The aid does not go unnoticed. 

“Everybody’s so wonderful when they come out and help me,” Mrs. Dilworth said. 

For more information on the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, RedCross.org/homefires.

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