911 Call Didn't Mention Fire

Responders caught off guard at scene


 
 

John Futty | | Tuesday, June 17, 2008


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A language problem did not delay firefighters in responding to a North Side apartment fire on Sunday, contrary to a story in yesterday's Metro & State section.

However, incomplete information from a 911 caller prevented first responders from knowing what awaited them at the scene.

The first of two callers to 911, who both spoke English, requested that a firefighter be sent to an apartment at 2255 Albert Ave. but didn't explain the nature of the emergency.

"What's going on? What do you need somebody over there for?" the dispatcher asked the male caller, who dialed 911 at 4:53 p.m. The caller hung up.

A paramedic unit and a fire engine were dispatched to the address to check out an unknown emergency less than a minute later, Fire Division records show.

Battalion Chief Mark Devine told a reporter at the scene that only a paramedic unit was dispatched after the first call.

Dispatchers took a second 911 call 3 1/2 minutes after the first. "There's a fire, and it's starting to spread," the male caller said.

The incident was changed to a fire emergency, and additional fire companies were dispatched at 4:58 p.m. The first paramedic and engine arrived at the scene seconds before 5 p.m. The additional fire companies arrived two minutes later.

At the scene, Devine estimated a 10-minute delay in dispatching firefighters.

Yesterday, he said his estimate was based on evidence that residents attempted to extinguish the fire themselves before 911 was dialed and the confusion surrounding the nature of the emergency.

Many of the building's residents are Somali, and fire investigators struggled to communicate with some of those they interviewed.

Although an engine was dispatched after the first call, Devine doubted that those on board were dressed in fire gear. He said the two crews "weren't enough people to deal with what they had."

The fire started in a mattress but had spread to the roof of the building by the time firefighters arrived.

None of the residents was injured, but all eight units in the building at Capital Park Apartments were damaged.


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