Monroe County is considering hiring an outside company to review its fire department’s performance in the fatal Aug. 17 house fire on Strickland Loop amidst concerns about the response.
Two county commissioners and county manager Jim Hedges met with witnesses last week concerned that county fire chief Matt Perry was first on the scene of the fire but that the elderly residents inside, Morris and Virginia Adair, weren’t pulled out until 14 minutes after his arrival, according to a 911 log of the call. Firefighters attempted CPR but the Adairs had already passed away.
After hearing concerns about the response, the Reporter obtained the 911 tapes. County and city firefighters were working a house fire on Lee King Road the night of Saturday, Aug. 17 when Strickland Loop resident Laura Moore called 911 around 9:48 p.m. to say her neighbor’s home was on fire. “Oh my gosh it makes my stomach hurt,” Moore is heard telling the dispatcher, describing mini explosions in the fire. “Oh my God. We can clearly see it from our house.”
The 911 dispatch report shows that firefighters began arriving at 9:54 p.m. and Perry radioed at that time that it was a working fire.
County firefighters have said they were familiar with the Adairs because of multiple medical calls to the home, and the bed-ridden wife stayed in a bedroom on the front right corner of the one-story home, furthest from the fire that was ravaging the back left corner of the home near the garage.
At one point a firefighter is heard asking his command: “Is it possible to send some guys in there?”
Finally city firefighters Justin Hammond and Michael Cobb and county firefighter Steven Mays kicked in the front door and entered the home while county firefighter Doug Adams sprayed the area with a hose. They found the Adairs lying on the floor of the bedroom and Hammond and Mays brought them out at 10:07 p.m., 14 minutes after the first firefighters had arrived. A witness, who asked not to be identified, said it only took 30 seconds to get the Adairs out once they kicked in the door.
For his part, Perry said that it’s department protocol to wait until help has arrived to try to enter a home. Perry said firefighters would never enter a home by themselves or without proper gear and said although he approached the bedroom window, he did not see the couple in the room due to thick smoke. Perry said by the time he and Mays had finished a peripheral check of the home, two other firefighters were suited up ready to go in. Perry said once the state marshal’s office, the family’s insurance company and two county fire investigators finish their normal probe into the cause of the fire, he welcomes an internal review into the county’s handling of the situation.
“We take them all seriously, but this is one where we had two folks pass away,” Perry said. “We all want to know why.”
Nevertheless, Perry said he thinks Monroe County firefighters handled the Strickland Loop fire “well”, noting county firefighters were already out fighting a separate fire on Lee King Road when the call came in.
“Three guys (Adams, Mays and Hammond) did an unbelievable job,” Perry said, estimating it took 45 seconds to remove the two victims from the home.
After meeting with witnesses and some commissioners to review the facts of the case, county manager Jim Hedges reportedly discussed hiring Anderson and Associates of Fitzgerald to analyze the county’s response.
District 4 commissioner George Emami said commissioners have been made aware of some things that have been of concern and they feel the need to further evaluate the circumstances around the fire.
“There’s nothing definitive that shows any fault,” said Emami, “but we are investigating the events surrounding the fire.”
The state fire marshal reported he could not definitively say what caused the fire.