Smoke detectors distributed in memory of student killed in fire

April 4, 2014
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Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter
Kindergartner Caleb Degarmo holds up a picture he drew of a fire truck after attending an assembly about fire safety on Friday, April 4. Degarmo was a classmate of Timmy Hewitt, who died in a fire in October. Because of that fire, representatives of Claysville Volunteer Fire Department spent the day at Claysville Elementary School, teaching safety. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter
Firefighter and EMT Jessica Hilderbrand hands a smoke detector to first-grader Kara Gashel at Claysville Elementary School. Hilderbrand helped organize a fire safety day at the school and received enough donated smoke detectors for every child in the school. Hilderbrand felt teaching fire safety was especially important after a student at the school died in a fire in October 2013. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter
Claysville firemen show the Claysville Elementary School kindergartners all the different pieces of their gear. Claysville firefighters taught the students about fire safety and handed out 600 donated smoke detectors. Order a Print

As Jessica Hilderbrand drifted from classroom to classroom Friday at Claysville Elementary School, a tragic scene replayed in her mind.

Hilderbrand, a firefighter and EMT with Claysville Volunteer Fire Department, vividly remembers a fatal house fire that not only affected her, but the halls in which she wandered.

In October, 5-year-old Timothy A. Hewitt Jr. and his mother, Lisa M. Hewitt, 27, were killed when their Wigington Road home caught fire in Buffalo Township. Timothy was just starting kindergarten at Claysville Elementary.

To honor Timothy and in the hope of preventing a similar tragedy, Hilderbrand coordinated the purchase of 600 smoke detectors that were distributed to elementary students Friday.

“It means the world to protect these kids,” Hilderbrand said. “If we can prevent just one accident, then we’ve done our jobs.”

Hilderbrand said she had to “do something” after witnessing the fire. So she reached out to groups within the area for support. Hilderbrand said Claysville VFD, Claysville Auxiliary, West Alexander Fire Department, Claysville Elementary Parent Teacher Organization and members of the Claysville Elementary staff donated money to purchase the detectors from First Alert.

Claysville Elementary Principal Sheryl Fleck said letters were sent home to parents inquiring if there was a need.

“Roughly 30 percent of the parents responded back that they didn’t have smoke detectors. Those families got two,” Fleck said.

Fleck said the school holds fire-prevention activities yearly, but this was the first time they’ve distributed items such as the alarms.

Canton Township fire Capt. Cody Gump also responded to the house fire on October and was at the elementary school Friday. Gump said smoke detectors can be the difference between life and death.

“Every fire department should do this,” Gump said. “It’s very important. I’m 24, and I hope I never see something like that again in my career.”

In addition to handing out the smoke detectors, Hilderbrand said firefighters did presentations for the different grade levels, made fire vehicles available for students to see and explore, and let each grade take turns inside a house fire simulator.

Sabrina Beatty, a first-grader, was thrilled to get her smoke detector. After watching the fire-prevention presentation, she couldn’t wait for it to be installed.

“I’m going to make my mom take it out of the box first thing and put it up.”

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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