When I arrived on the scene about 45 minutes later, Bremerton Fire Department personnel were mopping up. Residents had been evacuated and were receiving services at the nearby Westpark Community Center. Damage was primarily limited to the apartment where the fire had started. It was a total loss and would need to be completely renovated. Thankfully, the rest of the building received only minor water damage from the firefighter’s hoses.
As residents were allowed back into the building a few hours later that night, I noticed a small group huddled together in the darkness, smoking, waiting their turn to go inside. I told them the fire had been started by a careless smoker and the Housing Authority had been considering in the last several months a policy that would ban smoking at all BHA residential properties. I asked this small group, all smokers, what they thought about such a policy. Without exception, each said they would support a smoking ban, they didn’t want to be smokers, and they hated the smell of cigarette smoke in the building.
The rest is history. Within a few months, the BHA board of commissioners passed a resolution declaring all BHA properties to be smoke-free. As Westpark made way for replacement affordable housing as part of the creation of Bay Vista, each new property – Bay Vista Commons, The Summit, Bay Vista South, and Bay Vista West, were designated non-smoking. BHA acquired additional housing in other parts of Bremerton – Winfield, Shadow Creek, Wright Court, Charter House, and Casa del Sol, and all were declared smoke-free. BHA’s existing inventory – The Firs, Tara Heights, and Tamarack, all became smoke-free. With the encouragement of the Bremerton Fire Department, a $300,000 fire sprinkler system was installed at The Firs for additional fire safety. All new buildings were constructed with fire suppression systems as standard features.
I share this story because a decade later, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has declared all public housing in the U.S. must be smoke-free by August 1, 2018. There are many public housing authorities that have fought this smoke-free requirement. At BHA, we value the health and safety of our residents. Becoming smoke-free over 10 years ago was the right thing to do. We had no resistance from residents. We make referrals to our partner agency, the Kitsap Public Health District, for connection to smoking cessation programs and services. The wellness and safety of our residents is paramount to us.
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