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Bill Kirby Jr.: Home smoke alarms, fire chief says, can save your life

'The Rev. Miller was a part of our community,' says Chief Freddy Johnson Sr. of the Stoney Point Fire Department


Where there is smoke, there is fire.

When out of control, a firefighter will tell you, neither shows mercy, and together they can be deadly.

“We just had a fire fatality where the home's smoke alarms did not work,” Stoney Point Fire Chief Freddy Johnson Sr. says about the fire that broke out in the early evening of Nov. 1 in the Wendemere subdivision of south Cumberland County.

Responding to the homeowner’s 911 call, firefighters from Stoney Point found the homeowner in the downstairs primary bedroom on the floor between the bedroom and bathroom doors, according to a Stoney Point news release. His Labrador retriever, Ella, was resting partially on top of her owner.

Others responding to the fire included the Cotton Fire Department; Cumberland Road Fire Department; Fayetteville Fire Department; Hope Mills Fire Department; Puppy Creek Fire Department and Rockfish Fire Department, both of Hoke County; Cape Fear Valley EMS; and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.

The Rev. Gene Miller, who was the homeowner, was rushed by a Cape Fear Valley EMS unit to the emergency room at Cape Fear Medical Center, where the 74-year-old pastor died, Johnson says, from smoke inhalation.

The fire originated in the kitchen on the counter tops where several electrical appliances were plugged in and still operating, the news release said. The home sustained heavy fire damage in the kitchen and den, along with heavy smoke and heat damage to portions of the first floor. The second floor received smoke damage only.

“This homeowner had a very loyal dog, who I'm sure provided early warning of the fire due to smoke,” Johnson says. “I can tell you that a byproduct of smoke is carbon monoxide.”

All the animals in the home perished, too.

‘Smoke alarms save lives’

Freddy Johnson Sr. has been fighting fires since 1976 out Lake Rim and Stoney Point way, and Johnson has seen his share of fires that have damaged and destroyed homes and taken lives.

“With our cold weather and holiday season coming up, where cooking and heating fires increase, it may be a good time to address the lifesaving value of working smoke alarms,” Johnson says. “With our cold winter months fast approaching, where we see an increase in structure fires as a result of heating, I wanted to reach out about the importance of a working smoke alarm in every home. We cannot overstress the lifesaving benefits of a working smoke alarm that provides that critical lifesaving early warning when an in-home fire strikes.”

Johnson points to the statistics.

“In 2021, North Carolina had 133 fire deaths reported, and so far this year in 2022 we are at 117 fire deaths,” he says. “And according to the N.C. Fire Marshal’s website, only three out of five homes have working  smoke alarms. Most fire fatalities happen between the months of January through May, with 71% (of victims) being over the age of 50.

“One of the best tools in the home is a working smoke alarm.

“In home fires, early warning is critical,” Johnson says. “So don’t wait until it’s too late.”

Johnson is passionate in his plea about the importance of smoke alarms. He points to the National Fire Protection Association, which says that in one out of five homes that have smoke alarms, none of the units work because of dead, missing or disconnected batteries.

So is Kevin Dove, deputy chief of the Fayetteville Fire Department.

“They save lives,” Dove says about active smoke alarms. “They truly, 100% save lives. There’s no disputing that.”

And any fire station in the city and county, Dove says, will provide a smoke alarm for your home and at no cost to you, no matter if you rent or own your home.

Just call 910-433-1730.

“Our folks will come in and evaluate the house,” Dove says

They’ll even come and change smoke alarm batteries. Dove says. Batteries usually have a life expectancy of 10 years, Dove says, but it is suggested that you change batteries before and after the start and end of daylight savings time each year.

Something else you may wish to know from Dove is that smoke will take your life more quickly than fire.


A graveside service was scheduled Thursday at Philadelphus Presbyterian Church in Red Springs, where the Rev. Miller served as pastor. It was followed by a memorial service at First Presbyterian Church in Maxton, where the Rev. Miller also was the pastor. He formerly served as senior pastor at Galatia Presbyterian Church in west Fayetteville.

“The Rev. Miller was a part of our community,” Freddy Johnson Sr. says. “His home was right around the corner from our fire department. And we grieve for and with his family.”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.