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Like me, I’m sure you will have a lot of unanswered questions from watching these two reports from WFLA-TV about a house fire in Polk County, Florida. The fire killed 76-year-old Loretta Pickard. There is a lot that’s vague in how Polk County’s deputy county manager responded to the reporter and in the way some of the information was reported. It would help to have the radio traffic along with the 911 call to understand more about what did and did not occur on the fireground and between 911 and those on the scene. Still, these facts about the response seem to be clear and are the essence of the story:
- Loretta Pickard was on the phone talking with 911 for approximately 20 minutes
- Based on a log from the 911 center it took 16 minutes for firefighters to arrive
- Ms. Pickard was still on the phone when firefighters arrived
- The home was approximately 50 percent involved shortly after firefighters arrived
- Firefighters mounted a defensive attack
- The log does not indicate firefighters searched for Loretta Pickard (it’s not clear if anyone actually did search)
- The incident commander, a captain, was posting on Snapchat from the fire & was later suspended for 24 hours because of this (WFLA-TV says it requested and was denied access to that video)
That last fact in my list is one that has worried me for some time. If you’ve attended any of my classes, you may have seen a video from a number of years ago of an engine company arriving first at a house fire and the initial act of the driver of the rig–one of only two firefighters on scene–is to adjust a camera to get a good shot of the burning home. Imagine if that house fire had been fatal and the family saw the video of a firefighter fiddling with a camera rather than saving their loved one. I’ll leave to all of you to discuss the many any other operational questions about this fire.
One thing not mentioned in any of the reporting is Polk County engaging someone from the outside to look at all aspects of this response. What we know, so far, seems to cry out for that to occur.