By Jeff Noble, Staff Writer
More than eight months ago, the deaths of eight people in a house fire in the Gray community of Knox County stunned our region.
The West Knox Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department — and the family of some of those who perished — decided to do something, so other families wouldn’t have to go through the suffering they experienced Saturday, March 9.
As a result, the first-ever “Give a Beep” fire safety program will kick off this Saturday with a safety fair from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Lynn Camp High School.
West Knox Chief Darryl Baker said Wednesday they have a plan in place.
“It’s to reach out and teach our community to be ready in case of a fire emergency. And, just as important, to have a plan on what to do,” he said.
To help people be proactive about fire safety, 750 new smoke detectors will be given away to households in the West Knox Fire District, on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Baker added safety houses and trailers will be brought in from first responders in Pulaski and Pike counties, along with a “Traveling Safety Adventure Trailer.” All are designed for families and children to go through, so they can learn about what to do in case of an emergency.
Hot dogs and drinks will also be served at the safety fair, with safety displays being set up by Cumberland Valley RECC and Delta Natural Gas.
The idea for Give a Beep came shortly after the March fire during a meeting Baker and the West Knox crew had with the family of Jesse Disney.
Jesse Bruce Disney, 27, of Gray, was one of the eight who died in the blaze, according to the State Fire Marshal’s Office in Frankfort.
Baker said Disney’s fiancé, Nina Nicole Asher, 22, and her unborn child, also died in the fire. She was 11 weeks pregnant at the time of her death.
In addition, the tragedy claimed the lives of Asher’s three children — 3-year-old William Michael Frank Gray Jr.; 2-year-old Camden Leigh Gray; and 10-month-old Abigail Danielle Gray.
All five were residents of the house on the corner of Sam Parker Road and Shady Brook Lane that caught fire on March 9.
Two sisters, who were staying at the home the night before with Disney, Asher and her children, also died in the blaze.
Paiten Cox, who would have been 3 years of age later in March, and Briel Cox, who had recently turned 2 years old at the time, both perished.
Both were 2 years old when the fire occurred They were friends of the Disney family.
All the fire victims were from Gray in Knox County.
Baker recalled that trying time back in March.
“When we had the incident, we had the state Critical Incident Management Team come talk to the firefighters. We do that whenever we have an incident that we think will affect the crew, like a fatal fire. We contacted the Disney family. Several of our firefighters and their families and friends are related to the Disneys. And the family agreed to talk, provided the firefighters would also be there. It gave them a kind of a buffer between strangers,” he said.
Jesse’s brother, Kevin Disney, remembered when Baker contacted his parents and family.
“Darryl came to us shortly after the fire, and they talked to us about handling grief after the fire. Darryl also mentioned that he had an idea of giving smoke detectors away to the residents in the West Knox fire district. He called it the ‘Give a Beep’ campaign. Basically, he proposed it to us that this was a way for people to prevent what happened to our family by having smoke detectors in the house. … There were smoke detectors in the house, but whether the batteries were working we’ll never know. There’s all kind of scenarios going through your mind,” noted Kevin.
The group setting gave the Disney family a chance to talk about their feelings after the fire, in front of others.
Baker added the family wanted to do more.
“We had already been told the family wanted to do something so that other families wouldn’t have to go through this. They wanted to help. So I came up with this Give A Beep program, presented it to them, and if they were OK with it, we’d do it. If they were not, we’d do something else. They were ecstatic. They’re just as excited about this as we are. It’s so much harder to get a positive out of this, especially with the pain they went through. But they were enthusiastic about the fire safety program.”
The Give a Beep logo was designed by Baker, and stands as a reminder of the tragedy. He said the letter “B” in the word “Beep” has the number “8,” which represents the number of people — the seven persons plus the unborn child — who died in the fire.
This Saturday’s safety fair is the first fire safety event sponsored by West Knox that’s open to the public. Baker said the event will become an annual tradition.
He added the smoke detectors to be given away come from the Kidde and First Alert companies. But people coming to the event need to remember one important point about the detectors.
“Keep in mind that the 750 smoke detectors we’ll give away are for the residents of our fire district. If we have any leftover, we’ll make a list, and we’ll call those people who requested them and make arrangements to give the smoke detectors to them. We have a lot of support for this, so we’re thinking we’ll get more smoke detectors. In fact, we’re filling out grants for more,” he pointed out.
Kevin Disney said the family does plan to be at Saturday’s safety fair, and that his mother has been to one of the earlier planning sessions. But he admitted that life for he and his family remains a day-to-day struggle.
“My mom still cries at times, and the family’s still taking it pretty rough. You’re still in that first-year phase — the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas. We always have a big family reunion in August, usually at Levi Jackson State Park. The reunion is for my mom’s side of the family, and we had it this year at Levi Jackson. This year, it was a very somber event. You try to do all the fun things that we usually do, but what happened in March is in the back of your mind,” he said.
Both Kevin Disney and Darryl Baker agree Saturday’s safety fair is a good start to make people fire-safe. Not just during the cold weather months — when more fires occur — but year-round.
Because, as Baker said, you just never know.
“In my storage building at my house, I have clothing and shoes, so if I have to run out in the middle of the night during a fire at my house, I’ve got something for my family and I to wear, just in case. A lot of people don’t think about that. We’re hoping in the end of this safety fair, people should have a detailed list on what they should have, and what they should do,” he explained.
Added Disney, “It’s not just the batteries and the detectors, but making plans. Where a family can go to in case of a fire, who to call and where to go. It’s what Darryl Baker called ‘Your plan to get out alive.’ Just in case.”
By Jeff Noble, Staff Writer
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