My name is Russ Ashe and I am a resident of the town of Williamstown. I have a combined 23 years in the fire services with 12 of those years employed by the city of Barre, as a career captain.
On Dec. 17, 2005, our department had a fire that killed four kids and their mother. I am sure you all remember it as it was widely covered. After that fire, we learned the differences between ionization smoke alarms and photoelectric smoke alarms. The ionization alarms do not alert to a smoldering fire. Such was the case in our fire in Barre. Photoelectric alarms do alert to a smoldering fire.
Once we learned that, I and a couple others testified to the Vermont Legislature and a bill requiring photoelectric smoke alarms was eventually passed in 2008 and signed into law by then-governor Jim Douglas at our fire house.
I have been many places, including Australia, talking to people trying to get them to understand the importance of the photoelectric alarm. I have written a book about the fire and all that we learned. When people die in fires today, I am left with a lot of guilt because I know they died because they didn’t know what I know. It is a heavy burden to carry.
The fire in Orange really caught my attention. You see, last July, July 31, 2018, to be exact, I sent an email to the Vermont Division of Fire Safety, as well as two Vermont legislators who helped us pass the photoelectric smoke alarm bill, asking them to mandate photoelectric smoke alarms in all campers and RVs sold here in Vermont. We all know how important it is to the lives of sleeping people in their homes; it’s even more urgent in small spaces such as a camper. All campers come with an ionization alarm. I never heard back from anyone. I looked back in my email history this morning and found those emails which are why I can tell you specifically the date they were sent.
With respect to the fire in Orange, the only details I have about it are the ones you all are reporting. However, based on your reports, it seems very likely it began as a smoldering fire. There never should have been as much smoke in that camper without the alarm sounding. Assuming the alarm was working, it clearly was ionization.
I am respectfully asking for two things. One, don’t let this incident die. Please look into why campers in Vermont do not have photoelectric alarms in them. Maybe your push will help save lives.
Second, please pass this photoelectric issue up your chains. I’ve been doing this since the fire in 2005. Vermont, Australia, parts of California, parts of Ohio and several other municipalities through out the country have some sort of photoelectric legislation. But I am just one guy with a very small platform. I am associated with an amazing yet small group of people from all over the world trying to fix this problem. You all, however, have the platform or the means to get to the big platform. For years, I have been trying to get to that big platform to get the word out and to try to make change at the federal level. My fingers are getting calluses from all the emails I have sent.
In any event, I do hope you seriously consider my two requests. People are dying every single day simply because they do not know what I know. I’m doing all I can, but I could sure use some help.
Thank you all in advance and I do hope to hear from you all soon.
Russ Ashe lives in Williamstown.