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Saved home shows importance of smoke detectors, owners say

News Photo by Julie Riddle Alpena residents Annette Simpson and Rodney Theriac stand beneath the smoke detector that is credited for saving their home — and possibly their lives.

ALPENA — A newspaper on Annette Simpson and Rodney Theriac’s kitchen counter flashed the latest news about the fire that reduced an Alpena business to a pile of rubble last weekend.

“You don’t think a fire is an everyday experience,” Simpson said. “But they happen.”

Wednesday, in the late hours of the night, Simpson and Theriac were asleep in their 2nd Avenue home in Alpena when they woke to the smell of smoke and a disorienting buzz in their ears.

A candle, accidentally left burning in the home’s basement stairwell, had ignited a nearby wicker basket and its contents, including an aerosol can, which exploded from the heat.

A smoke detector, hung above a doorway in a small hallway dense with family photos, is credited with saving the home and possibly the lives of the people who were sleeping nearby when the fire licked to life.

“It was fast, and it was scary,” Simpson said.

The alarm in her ears, she hollered Theriac awake. Finding her way through the thick smoke in her living room, she called 911, the smoke irritating her asthma.

Firefighters arrived in minutes, extinguishing the fire that left behind a patch of burned carpet and a black scar on the stairwell wall.

“It wasn’t much, but it could have been,” Theriac said.

The home, full of wooden doorways and hardwood floors built by Simpson’s grandfather, could very easily have been lost if the homeowners hadn’t been alerted to action by the smoke detector, said Capt. Andy Williams of the Alpena Fire Department.

Home fires are a high risk in winter, firefighter Adrienne Thompson said. She has responded to homes at which fires caused by portable heaters or uncleaned chimneys have damaged property, frightened residents, and endangered lives.

Often, when she enters a home to put out a fire, Thompson said, the sound that is missing is that of a smoke alarm.

“Put one up,” Simpson said. “It’s not that hard.”

Since the fire, she has talked to neighbors and friends about the buzz that pulled her from her sleep. Many of the people she’s talked to, she has learned, don’t have working smoke detectors in their homes, including a neighbor across the street, who didn’t have detectors in his second-floor apartment.

“What’s he going to do, jump out the window?” she worried.

To stop as many fires as possible, the Alpena Fire Department installs about 100 smoke detectors per month in residents’ homes as part of their free smoke detector distribution program.

Unlike older varieties, the new detectors offered by the Fire Department have 10-year batteries that don’t need to be replaced. The devices also communicate with other detectors in the house, so, if one detects smoke, all the devices in the home will sound.

“There’s just no excuse to not get one,” Simpson said.

After her sister lost her home to a fire several years ago, and the scare of earlier this week, Simpson is a firm believer in the need to take a simple step that can save a life.

“Had we not had the smoke detector, I don’t know what would have happened,” Simpson said. “I don’t think it would have been good.”