Fire captain suspended after sending Snapchat, discrepancies found in logs from deadly fire

Polk County

An 8 On Your Side investigation is revealing some discrepancies about what happened the night an elderly woman died in a house fire.

The victim, 76-year-old Loretta Pickard, was on the phone with 911 dispatchers for 20 minutes from inside a burning home

“I think my house is on fire and I’m here alone and I’m on a walker,” Pickard can be heard telling the dispatcher. 

The elderly woman sat on the phone with the dispatcher as her Rockridge Road home, tucked away in a rural wooded area, was filling with smoke.

According to the 911 call, Loretta was told over and over again by a dispatcher that help was coming.

“They’re there, is your door unlocked?” the dispatcher asked.

“Yes, tell them to hurry!” Loretta replied.

Her family wants to know why her rescuers never came, even though firefighters were there.

“She was five feet from the door, sitting at her dining room table waiting for help,” said Loretta’s niece, Amber Addison.

Deputy County Manager Joe Halman Jr. told 8 On Your Side that first responders attempted to rescue Loretta, but it was too hot.

“At one point they went around the house and the fire was so hot, they kind of got singed themselves in an effort to try to rescue this lady,” Halman said.

A log between dispatchers and fire crews obtained by 8 On Your Side tells a different story.

According to the log that was brought to 8 On Your Side’s attention by a source in Polk County Fire Rescue, firefighters did not attempt to get into the home or check around it. In fact, they never mentioned the person trapped inside. 

Instead, firefighters started fighting the fire from the outside.

At that point, according to the log, only half of the home was on fire.

“They know I’m here right?” Loretta can be heard asking the 911 dispatcher as she seems more concerned.

“Yes they know you’re in there,” the dispatcher responded.

The log shows that a dispatcher told the firefighters several times that Loretta was inside, where she was located and that she was still alive.

Yet there is no record in the log of any search, rescue attempt, or any mention of the victim from firefighters on scene.

Halman said that not everything that happened that November evening was in the dispatch log. But our source from Polk County Fire Rescue says it is standard protocol that every action is reported to dispatch.

8 On Your Side has learned that the person calling the shots, Polk County Fire Rescue Captain James Williams, sent a Snapchat video from the scene. 

James Williams with Deputy County Manager of Public Safety Joe Halman Jr. (Polk Fire Rescue photo)

Halman said he was suspended for it.

“It’s violation of our policy and as a result he was suspended for 24 hours without pay,” Halman said.

“That’s not acceptable. How is punishment for one day enough? How does he have a job?” Addison questioned.

8 On Your Side has requested a copy of the Snapchat video from the county, as well as the time it was sent. They have not yet fulfilled that request.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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