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Father reminding students of college fire dangers

PHOENIX — Housing-related fires have claimed the lives of 161 college students nationwide since 2001.

In light of this fact, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has proclaimed September as Campus Fire Safety Month. The proclamation notes that 85 percent of those fires happened in off-campus housing. The Phoenix Fire Department said that in many cases, the home or apartment rented by the college students did not have a working smoke detector.

That was the case for Jim Osborn’s 21-year-old son, Tanner. He was working a college internship in Chicago in 2005. One morning, Jim got a phone call that every parent fears.

“At 10:03 in the morning, I received a phone call from the Chicago Police Department me that my son had perished along with two other boys in an off-campus related fire,” said Osborn, choking back tears.

“It was probably the most difficult and devastating thing that’s ever happened to me in my life.”

Tanner and the other two students were renting the home. Eight years later, the cause of the fire still isn’t known. Osborn does know that there was a smoke detector in the house, but it wasn’t working.

“If it had been properly placed in the right location, and working, all three boys would be alive today,” he said. “All three boys would have their futures in front of them still.”

Since the tragedy, Osborn has been working with the Phoenix Fire Department to raise awareness about making sure everyone has a working smoke detector. He’s teamed with the fire department to inspect smoke detectors, and has helped give away some 8,000 smoke detectors to those in need. Osborn said he “adores” his son, and wants to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.

Osborn has the memory of holding the burned body of his son after the fire. He also carries a charred stick that was part of the house as a daily reminder of Tanner and his two classmates.

“Do you want to smell it?” Osborn asks.

He knows what he smells on the stick.

“I smell death. I smell my son. I smell Justin McDonald, and I smell Chris Ross.”

McDonald and Ross were Tanner’s roommates.

“I see all three of their faces. They were 19-years-old, 20-years-old,and 21-years-old. And who those boys could have been, we’ll never know. What they could have accomplished, we’ll never know.”

Osborn hopes his story will encourage you to make sure both you and your college kids have a working smoking detector where you live, or in the hotel room where you’re staying. It could save your life.

Phoenix Fire Capt. Tony Mure said you should check your smoke detector regularly and replace the batteries, if needed. If your smoke detector is 8-years-old or more, Mure said that, mostly likely, it’s time to get a new one.