Everett, Wash. — After a devastating fire that killed a young mother inside her coffee stand nearly a year ago, KIRO 7 has uncovered a fire code violation that could potentially have saved her life if corrected. And other stands around the Sound have the same dangerous violation—unintentionally and unaware in most cases.
When Ben Scott describes losing Courtney Campbell he can only liken it to losing a part of himself.
“It was like losing an arm, I guess is the best way I can explain it because she was such an integral part of my existence for the longest time,” Ben told us from inside his Everett apartment, ten months after Courtney’s death.
The vibrant young mom with a contagious positivity had quickly become Ben’s whole world.
“We were a team, everybody who knew us, all of my friends know Courtney because we were a team,” Ben explained.
Every day he would check on Courtney at the little coffee stand just blocks from his house in Everett. She was working tirelessly to buy it— and was almost there—when a tragedy took Courtney’s business, her life, and part of Ben’s.
On January 7th, 2016, the coffee stand erupted in flames. The Everett Fire Department says a propane leak inside the stand caused a fireball and caused temperatures to reach 1,000 degrees—almost instantly.
Courtney was able to escape through a window and miraculously walk into the gas station behind her stand. She was still conscious when emergency responders arrived.
“She was able to tell them a little about what happened,” including that she had been trapped inside the stand,” Everett Fire Marshal Eric Hicks told us.
Four days later she died at Harborview Medical Center with burns covering 90-percent of her body.
“Nobody would ever want to see any human being in the condition she was in at that time, let alone it being your best friend,” Ben said of the last time he saw Courtney.
KIRO 7 submitted a public disclosure request for the report once the fire investigation was concluded. We scoured the documents and on the very last page found this: the lock on the coffee stand was a key-key locking deadbolt, meaning it required a key to unlock the stand from the outside AND a key to unlock the stand from the inside.
This locking mechanism, which does not meet fire code, delayed Courtney’s escape eight seconds during which time—according to the report—“she received significant burns… Any occupant would have no chance of obtaining a key and operating a keyed locking deadbolt to escape under direct flame contact with the body.”
“If that’s your only exit out we wouldn’t allow that,” said Hicks.
Here’s why: inside the trailer the Everett Fire Department uses for demonstrations we tried to simulate the coffee stand fire without the intense temperature and toxic smoke.
I put the key near the lock, Hicks filled the trailer with fog. Wearing a GoPro on my head, we timed my escape.
Finding the key in the dark and fog was easy because the trailer is mostly empty, unlike a coffee stand. Getting the key into the lock and opening the door proved much more difficult.
It took my 15 seconds to exit the trailer, without any added adverse conditions.
“[Courtney] was in basically a fuel ball with the propane so it’s a much different situation,” Hicks explained.
After her horrific death the Everett fire department sent an inspector to all of the city’s 29 other coffee stands. While none had a lock that required a key to open from the inside, all but one had a locking system that did not meet city fire code, which states you must be able to open your only exit in one motion.
“It’s the easiest operating lock just because you do one motion on the handle on the inside and pulls the bolt back and the latch back so it basically does it in one motion,” Everett locksmith Adam Benson told us, showing us what is called an interlocking system.
This is the type of lock that is fire compliant for a commercial business, but Benson says most people don’t buy it. It’s expensive-- several hundred dollars to nearly a thousand dollars, depending on the door.
“Most people are more interested in their wallet. Most people will spend more on their cell phone and cell phone case than they will on the locks on their house,” Benson said.
A source close to the investigation tells us none of the coffee stands knew there was anything dangerous about their locks.
Alan Tagle owns five coffee stands in King and Snohomish County. He doesn’t have any in the city of Everett so he wasn’t inspected after the fire, but the fire code is statewide. He showed us his locks inside one of his Lynnwood coffee stands.
“They lock the doorknob and the deadbolt,” Tagle told us, doing both as he explained.
That’s two locks and three motions to open the door in the event of an emergency.
“Nobody has ever come talk to us about it,” Tagle explained.
Tagle’s stand has not been inspected in over two years. Courtney Campbell’s stand was inspected a year and half before her death after the previous owner made modifications. The only code violation noted had to do with the fire extinguisher, and it was immediately addressed.
Ben Scott always worried about Courtney’s safety because of possible intruders.
“With a fire I had no idea,” he said, and now it’s too late. “I wish I had a time machine and could go save her, bring her back.”
But just maybe—Ben said-- Courtney’s death will be someone else’s chance at life.
“This is unsafe to have this type of lock,” Hicks concluded.
Cox Media Group