Fathers of fire victims come together to push for photoelectric smoke detectors

CLEVELAND - Ohio University student Andrea Dennis was visiting friends at The Ohio State University in 2003 when she never made it home from the trip.

"One second your life's fine, the next second your life's changed," said her father, Dean Dennis. "She was having a great time at the party with all her friends and then at four o'clock in the morning on Palm Sunday, the house was torched by an arsonist."

In 2005, almost two years to the date of Dennis' death, Julie Turnbull died in a fire at a Miami University off-campus home in Oxford. She was killed when a lit cigarette started a couch fire.

She died just one month before her graduation.

"She was in a house that had 17 ionization smoke detectors in the house, but by the time the very first one went off, she was already dead," said her father, Doug Turnbull.

The girls did not go to the same college and didn't know each other, but Dean Dennis felt he had to attend Julie Turnbull's funeral.

"Julie died at four in the morning on Palm Sunday, too. It was such an eerie coincidence, I just couldn't let it go," said Dean Dennis.

The grieving fathers became friends and that friendship has taken them all over the country as educators, ONN's Cristin Severance reported.

Their campaign was sparked by a call from an assistant fire chief in Boston. Jay Flemming is an advocate of using photoelectric smoke detectors and researches fires all over the country.

Flemming told Doug Turnbull that if they had used a different type of smoke detector in the house, Julie would still be alive.

Dean Dennis and Doug Turnbull started doing their own research on the difference between photoelectric smoke detectors and the more common ionization alarms, which are the kind in the homes where Andrea and Julie died. Their research on smoke detectors became a full time job.

"Ionization alarms get disabled eight times more than photoelectric alarms," Doug Turnbull said. "Quite frankly, they have up to a 50 percent failure rate in a smoldering fire, which is the most common fire that will kill you."

The men started getting invitations from fire chiefs around the country to talk about their findings.

"Once you are armed with this knowledge, you feel compelled to pass it on," Doug Trunbull said.

They spoke to fire officials in Northeast Ohio and told them about photoelectric smoke detectors and how their daughters could have been saved if they'd been in those homes.

"They get it, and if you make the case to them they are going to go home and check their detectors and if they look into the issue, they are going to educate the people in their fire company and then the people in their community," Doug Trunbull said.

That's exactly what happened in Shaker Heights.

The fire department did its own digging after hearing from the dads and now photoelectric smoke detectors are required in homes.

Chagrin Falls plans to pass the same ordinance.

The fathers are working to pass state legislation later this year.

They don't get paid for the countless hours of research or their trips around the county, but they said that the satisfaction they get is priceless.

Massachusetts and Vermont have changed laws to require a photoelectric smoke detector.

The Albany Fire Department in California changed its ordinance to require all detectors to be photoelectric, as well.

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