Reports Examine Firefighter Response to Fatal FL House Fire

A series of reports shed new light on a fatal fire last year in Polk County, Florida.

On November 23, 2018, firefighters responded to a reported house fire, with at least six transmissions from 911 dispatchers indicating that there was a person trapped, reports say. That person, Loretta Pickard, 76, was on the phone with 911 during the fire, with dispatchers confirming to her that crews were aware that she was inside the home.

Polk Fire Rescue’s policy, and industry standard, is to have two firefighters on the outside before two firefighters go in. Deputy County Manager Joe Halman told WFLA reporters that in a situation involving life and death, that policy doesn’t apply, which is also industry standard.

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However, the captain on scene, James Williams, although he apparently acknowledged to dispatch that he knew of the trapped occupant, sent no one in. Pickard would die during the incident.

Another report from WFLA indicated that Williams instead sent a Snapchat video from the scene. 8 On Your Side has requested a copy of the Snapchat video from the county, as well as the time it was sent, but that request has not yet been fulfilled. Williams was suspended without pay for 24 hours.

“That’s not acceptable. How is punishment for one day enough? How does he have a job?” Pickard’s niece, Amber Addison commented to reporters.

The deadly incident raises many issues being discussed in the modern fire service, including the use of social media at emergency scenes as well as the effects of what some critics term “safety culture” in some departments.

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