Polk fire captain at center of investigation placed on administrative duty

Polk County

The Polk County Fire Rescue captain at the center of a deadly fire investigation is now on administrative duty.

According to Mianne Nelson, a county spokesperson, Captain James Williams has been transferred from his field position to administrative work while the incident is under investigation.

The family of a Polk County woman who died in the house fire plan to speak out at the Polk County Commission meeting Tuesday morning.

Loretta Pickard,76, sat inside her burning home in North Lakeland waiting to be rescued as firefighters stood outside.

At the Tuesday county commission meeting, her family plans to share their grief with county commissioners. The Pickard family is begging for answers, and a closer look into why the first arriving crew did not save her.

“Tell them to hurry!” Pickard can be heard telling a 911 dispatcher once she learned firefighters were on scene. Sadly, Loretta died in her home and her rescuers never came for her, even after spending 20 minutes on the phone with 911.

Fire officials told 8 On Your Side that Capt. James Williams was suspended for one day, for recording video of the fire, and then sharing it on Snapchat. County officials admitted that Loretta may have still been alive in the burning home at the time.

Fire Chief Tony Stravino has publicly defended Capt. Williams’ actions that night, telling 8 On Your Side that saying the crew attempted to enter the home but it was too hot.

8 On Your Side uncovered recordings that contradict their accounts of what happened.

Dispatchers repeatedly told Williams that someone was inside, yet radio transmissions from Williams that night appeared to show that he was confused if anyone was even inside.

His first reported actions at the scene were a “defensive attack” which means in firefighter terms, they’re going to fight the fire from the outside. Minutes later, Williams called over the radio for backup, and cited a policy that two firefighters must be outside before two can go in.

Chief Stravino admitted that policy does not apply in a life or death situation, and said that it was from a, “lack of knowledge on his part.”

County commissioners have called for an outside investigation.

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