"The irony of the time change, the check your smoke alarm... This should be a wake up call," said Suzanne Hammontree, standing in front of the burned house where her dad, Pete Wattenbarger, died on Thursday morning.

The 60-year-old lived at the house on Round Pond Rd. Alone. He had some health problems. But it was the house he grew up in, and where he wanted to be, his daughter said.

"We need to live today to the fullest, say our goodbyes, tell everybody that we love everybody. And although I didn't get that chance, I want something good to come out of it," Hammontree said.

She hopes people learn from this. A wood-burning stove started the fire. There were no working smoke alarms in the house.

"Could that have saved him?" asked Hammontree. "It very well could have."

Assistant Fire Chief Marlin Thompson was off duty when he got the call a quarter mile from his home.

"Every time I'd been in there, he was sitting in the same place. So I thought to myself that he might be there again," Thompson said.

He found Wattenbarger unconscious in his chair. Thompson was able to pull the man out of the house. An ambulance rushed him to the hospital, where he later died.

Hammontree calls the firefighter a hero, regardless.

"My daddy may not have made it through," she said. "He didn't survive, but they tried. And he risked his own life to save my father."

She wants everyone to check their smoke alarms, and hopes her dad's story will help save someone's life.

"People need to think about that," Hammontree said. "Wherever they live, whatever kind of home they have. That's something they need to think about. Not just for yourself, but for the people that you love."

In almost a third of all fatal house fires, either the smoke alarm didn't work or there wasn't one in the home at all. Most smoke detectors cost less than $10.


Walker County Emergency Services Assistant Chief Marlin Thompson has worked calls at the Lafayette home before.

“I knew by the address that it was right down the street,” Thompson said.

He was off duty Thursday morning when he heard the call of a possible fire a quarter mile away from his home on Round Pond Road.

He was the first emergency responder on scene and since it was a familiar call, he knew he would probably have to help the tenant, Peter Whittenberger, 60, outside.

“Every time I had been there, he was sitting in the same place. So I thought to myself, he might be sitting there again,” he said.

Thompson's 22 years of experience as a firefighter took over as he navigated through the flames and thick smoke to find Whittenberger sitting in a chair.

“I lost my grip at one time, I had to reposition my hand placement. And I finally got him out onto the front porch,” he said.

Whittenberger was unconscious but alive. He was transported to Erlanger Hospital where he later died.

Judy Jackson has lived next door for 20 years. She had just gotten home when she heard the sirens.

“You could see the flames up over the top of the trees and of course the smoke billowing, so it was pretty intense,” she said.

She says Whittenberger had health problems that kept him from working and typically kept to himself.

“He would call and check in from time to time and my son would go over there and visit with him,” she added.

Investigators say the fire started in the living room and was the result of a wood burning stove that malfunctioned. They didn't find any working smoke alarms inside.

Thompson says this should serve as a reminder to have smoke alarms in your home and make sure they work.

“Make sure if they have kids, that the kids know what that sound is and what it means when it does go off,” Thompson said.

Thursday's fatality brings Georgia's fire death toll to 87 for 2014. Last year in Georgia, there were 91 fatal residential fires; 43 of those fires didn't have a working smoke alarm.


A morning house fire in Walker County leaves one person dead. 

The call came into dispatch just before 9:00 a.m. Thursday of a fire at a home on Round Pond Road inLafayettee.  Sixty-year-old Peter Whittenberger was killed in the fire. 

The report shows the fire started in the living room where a wood burning stove had malfunctioned.  There was no evidence of a working smoke alarm in the house. 

Thursday's death brings Georgia's fire death total to 87 for 2014.