Smoke detector saves woman from fire on Houston's south side

January 5, 2012 4:27:15 PM PST
A smoke detector is credited with saving a woman's life when her house caught fire on Houston's south side Thursday morning. That small device is now the subject of a city-wide campaign to encourage Houstonians to protect themselves.

We hear a lot of stories about fire deaths, and in many of them, the absence of a smoke detector was a factor. On Thursday, the other side of the story -- a fire in which the person in the burning house credits the alarm with her survival.

Charmaine Depuy-Watson is picking up the pieces of her life and her home. At 1am Thursday, smoke filled the house where three generations of her family once lived. She was awakened by an alarm.

"The smoke detectors woke me up. I got my dog out. I don't know where kitty is," said Depuy-Watson.

It is the second house fire in the past week in which smoke detectors have saved lives. Last Friday near Texas Southern University, a family of six, though injured, lived through a house fire. The owner was also wakened by the high-pitched beeps and able to call for help.

Houston City Council Member Wanda Adams is asking that homes near Thursday morning's fire be canvassed by the fire department and free smoke detectors offered to those who don't already have them.

"It's something we can give to them free with batteries, we're going to do that because we don't want this to happen to anyone because this is a tragedy for any family," said Council Member Adams.

The Houston Fire Department has long supplied detectors to low-income residents and it's now going beyond the smoke alarms.

"We have carbon monoxide detectors which are for older houses that heat with gas, but it all serves the same purpose and that's to save lives," said Captain Ruy Lozano with HFD.

The fire department is supplementing what the city can provide with public and private grants; to the point that last year 4,000 free smoke detectors were distributed. That's up about 25 percent from the year before. And then there's the public service campaign with billboards that read: "A $5.00 smoke detector saved my life." It's drawing attention.

"We got a lot of calls and through the website requesting smoke detectors once the billboards went up," said Laura Hunter with HFD Fire prevention.

A smoke detector will not prevent the loss of a home or of family treasures -- Charmaine Depuy-Watson will tell you that. But what that five dollar device allows her to do is to be alive and tell her story.

"I wouldn't have known because there's smoke before the fire so it's imperative to have smoke detectors," said Depuy-Watson.

An overloaded electrical outlet is said to be the cause of Thursday morning's house fire.