Polk fire captain resigns amid deadly fire investigation

Polk County

A Polk County Fire Rescue captain who was criticized for sharing video from the scene of a deadly fire in November has resigned.

Captain James Williams was previously suspended for 24 hours for violating policy for the video he took from the deadly fire in November. Williams was under investigation for allegedly lying under oath about taking previous videos at fire scenes.

Sources tell 8 On Your Side that Captain Williams was allowed to resign Tuesday morning. County officials confirmed his resignation in a statement.

“This resignation is the result of an internal investigation after the employee was alleged to have posted photos and/or videos taken during emergency response incidents to his personal social media accounts,” the statement from a county spokesman said. “Taking photographs and/or videos for personal use, and posting them to social media, violate Polk County Employee Handbook policies and procedures and Polk County Fire Rescue’s Standard Operating Procedures.”

This comes after several weeks on desk duty while officials investigated a potential second video Williams was reported to have taken at a different fire scene days earlier.

The family of 76-year-old Loretta Pickard, the woman who died in the November fire, has previously called for Williams termination because they say his actions demonstrate a lack of judgment needed to make life and death decisions. 

Pickard was on the phone with 911 for 20 minutes inside her home before she died. Dispatchers advised her to leave the home if she could, but Pickard explained that she was home alone, on a walker and had trouble getting around.

The dispatcher reassured her that help was on the way, but help never came.

8 On Your Side found the first crew may have never attempted search or rescue, according to tips from within the agency which were then verified by dispatch logs, dispatch audio and the 911 call. 

A post-analysis report of the fire conducted by a battalion chief at the scene that night appears to confirm 8 On Your Side’s findings. That analysis concluded that the first responding crew, including Captain Williams, should have attempted a search and rescue, but were inexperienced and likely overwhelmed by a fire of that magnitude. Williams was the captain who was calling the shots that night.

Pickard’s relatives have also been demanding an investigation into William’s actions the night of the fire, and what they consider a cover-up.

“We don’t believe that things have been handled correctly,” said Pickard’s niece, Amber Addison.

She believes Williams may be taking the fall for other problems within Polk County Fire Rescue.

“Now that we’ve got this out of the way, we can move on to the real evil here. The people who did the cover ups.  The people who provided this medical document that never really happened, the burns that never really happened.  The people that made all of that take place.”

An outside agency has officially begun its investigation into Polk County Fire Rescue’s response.

ESCI was hired by Polk County to investigate to analyze the department’s response, and interview employees, to determine if any corrective action is needed. The investigation is expected to take 60-90 days.

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