Polk County officials have released a 242-page post-incident analysis on a tragic fire that led to the death of a 76-year-old woman last year in Lakeland.
The analysis was completed by an outside company that was hired to investigate the fire. 8 On Your Side previously revealed that Polk County Fire Rescue firefighters who arrived first on the scene back in November may not have tried to rescue 76-year-old Lorretta Pickard.
The report released Monday essentially confirms that 8 On Your Side report.
“(Polk County) spent over $30,000 on a report that Channel 8 has already uncovered,” Pickard’s niece Amber Addison said after the report was released. “You guys have already stated everything that is in that report. But they spent $30,000 to do all of that.”
Pickard died in her burning home while on the phone with a 911 dispatcher for more than 20 minutes on Nov. 23, 2018. Our investigation revealed that firefighters stood outside, and instead tried to fight the flames.
What did the report find? (This will be updated as we continue poring through the pages of the report)
The report completed by Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI) confirmed many findings of our previous 8 On Your Side investigations.
In the report, ESCI notes the difficulties crews faced when responding to the fire back in November. They stated the home was in a heavily-wooded area and was surrounded by trees. There was also no marked address on the home or main road.
“The home was not visible” from the road and access to the structure was challenging, the report states. They also noted there are no fire hydrants directly near the home.
Capt. James Williams was the captain of Engine 6 (E6) – the first crew that arrived at the scene that night. According to the report, Capt. Williams “chose to forgo bringing Water Tender 6, stating that he wanted to keep the integrity of his crew together should they need to make a rescue of an occupant.”
ESCI found that Capt. Williams’ crew got to the scene at 7:22 p.m. They also found that the dispatcher announced five times between 7:09 and 7:12 that someone was trapped in the home. However, they did state that, “it may not have been apparent to all responding crews that the caller reporting the entrapment and the victim were on in the same.”
The report states that the dispatcher again mentioned that someone was trapped at 7:25. That information was acknowledged by E6. But according to the report, “it was not until after Engine 6’s arrival and upon questioning by Battalion Chief 1 that dispatch reported that, ‘Command, we are still landline there is somebody inside the structure’ and noted the location as the kitchen.” According to ESCI, that happened at 7:30. That was more than 3 minutes after the last contact with Pickard.
After the fire, ESCI found Polk County Fire Rescue personnel did not receive any follow-up or debriefing of themselves or their crews. There was an effort to look at the incident more closely to figure out what happened, but ESCI says that didn’t happen until the county manager was contacted by a concerned Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd on Nov. 26 – three days after the fire.
ESCI also found that there was no contact with Pickard’s family the night of the fire or in the days following the incident.
In their report, ESCI noted that the initial arriving officer (Capt. Williams) “was relatively new in his position with limited experience and likely had not been faced with an incident like this before.”
According to ESCI, Capt. Williams reported he and his firefighter tried to do a 360-degree survey. But ESCI says “the officer’s focus on the involved side of the home thwarted his attempt” to make that full walk. That would have allowed him to “ascertain more about the progression of the fire, survivable space entry or egress points and other hazards as is standard protocol,” ESCI wrote.
At 7:25, logs show Capt. Williams radioed in saying he needed the next arriving crew to come straight to the house for a “two-in/two-out” to possibly enter the home. But ESCI says the lack of the initial 360-degree survey by Williams made the reconnaissance ineffective.
ESCI notes that the information that was gathered by the call-taker was very good and that the call-taker kept in contact with the caller up until communication was lost 20 minutes into the fire. That was five minutes after Engine 6 reported they were on scene.
“Based on the timeline, radio communication logs and discussion with responders, there was no indication that the E6 crew was either focused on or in a mode to perform a search and rescue after the initial size-up as described,” ESCI wrote in the report.
ESCI also noted that Captain Williams had “tunnel vision” that resulted in him focusing on only one part of the situation rather than the whole losing situational awareness.
According to ESCI, neither Capt. Williams nor his firefighters brought forcible-entry tools, a Thermal Imaging Camera or a pressurized water extinguisher to the structure to help them get inside or search to execute a victim rescue.
In their report, ESCI states that Pickard’s body was found near a door that would have been hidden from the initial-arriving crew when standing on a different side of the home. But if the 360-degree survey could have been completed, ESCI says the door would have likely been seen.
According to ESCI, two injuries to responding firefighters were reported and documented from the fire. The report states they were both similar in nature and were documented as first-degree burns due to their close proximity to the fire for a prolonged period. But ESCI found the affected personnel were not treated for the reported injuries. They also found the injuries weren’t reported until Nov. 29 – six days after the fire.
One of the key findings that ESCI noted in their report was that information provided by the caller is “vitally important” to units assigned to the incident. ESCI found that, in this incident, the caller provided “considerable information about the structure, her location within the structure, her condition and access points to enter the structure.” All of that information was put into the CAD and showed up on mobile computers. But ESCI found the first arriving unit had a computer that was out of service. That means none of the information was available to the crew of E6.
During interviews with fire officers, ESCI said it was clear that “a majority of these officers are concerned with officer training, mentoring and development of the existing officer cadre as well as the newly-promoted and those aspiring for promotions.”
Another key finding ESCI noted in their report was that “there was no indication that E6 was in a mode to perform a search and rescue” after arriving at the scene.
“The officer and firefighter reported that they did not take any tools or other firefighter equipment with them to the scene,” the report states. “This may further imply the crew was not in a search and rescue mode.”
That infuriated the victim’s niece.
“Isn’t that sickening? It’s absolutely disturbing that you get a call that there’s an elderly woman in this building,” said Addison. “And then you don’t bring anything to get her out with?”
The Board of County Commissioners is scheduled to have a board/staff work session to discuss the analysis around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. ESCI will be giving a presentation. The county is then expected to hold a news conference to answer any questions.
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