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Rocky Mountain News (CO) – Thursday, June 16, 2005
Author/Byline: Clayton Woullard , Rocky Mountain News
Edition: Final
Section: News
Page: 4A
Aurora’s fire chief on Wednesday defended his department’s response time to an apartment fire last week, despite a two-minute delay caused, in part, by a dispatcher’s mistakes.

Though some residents said it took firefighters 15 to 30 minutes to arrive, Fire Chief Casey Jones said records show the first units responded in 7 1/2 minutes.

The department’s goal is eight minutes from the time a dispatcher takes the first call to when firefighters arrive on the scene, Jones said.

“The fire and the fire response was handled textbook,” he said.

However, Jones said the first units could have responded two minutes faster if there had been less confusion on the part of callers and better reaction from one dispatcher.

At one point during the series of 911 calls, a male dispatcher told a female caller yelling about the fire, “That’s not my problem.”

Jones said action has been taken involving that dispatcher, who will not be working with the public while an investigation is conducted.

“Absolutely, unequivocally, we do not tolerate that,” Jones said.

The fire department would not release the dispatcher’s name nor say whether he has been fired.

Jones also faulted the dispatcher for failing to identify himself as a 911 dispatcher and for making no attempt to calm another frantic caller who was the first to report the fire.

Jones released the 911 tapes that detailed his department’s handling of Friday’s fire at the 17-unit apartment complex at 1600 Geneva St. in which one tenant was critically injured.

The first call was made about 10:20 p.m. and the first firetruck arrived at the complex at 10:27 p.m.

It took less than 90 seconds for the first firetruck to get from the station to the apartment building six blocks away.

The chief said the first firefighters should have arrived about two minutes and 10 seconds sooner, and would have done so had some of the calls been handled better.

“The issue is that we did not process the calls in the amount of time they should,” Jones said.

Two residents of the complex filed complaints Monday, alleging firefighters took too long to arrive.

Jack Evertt, one of the complainants, said firefighters did not respond until he drove six blocks to the fire station and knocked on the door.

The apartment building’s owner, Ed Mock, said Wednesday that he still thought firefighters took too long to arrive.

He said by the time Evertt got to the fire station, tenants had used three fire extinguishers and poured about a dozen buckets of water on the fire.

“Seven minutes is quite a while when it only takes you 30 seconds to get there,” Mock said.

Jones said investigators have determined the fire was started intentionally and their prime suspect is the injured resident, Hardy Bell, who lives in the apartment where the fire started.

Bell’s mother, Connie Bell, said he was still in critical condition in a coma Wednesday night, but that doctors had told her he was getting better.

Firefighters found Bell barricaded under a pile of clothes, magazines and books in his closet.

They located the 36-year-old man on their second search of the apartment at 10:51 p.m., about 24 minutes after arriving and 30 minutes after the first 911 call.


Fire response timeline

* 10:20 p.m.: Aurora dispatch receives a call about a commotion at 1600 Geneva St.

* 10:20 p.m.: A male caller reports a fire at the apartment complex. Dispatcher does not immediately identify himself as a 911 dispatcher. Dispatcher tries to transfer caller to fire dispatch, but call is lost.

* 10:23 p.m.: Dispatch receives call from woman checking to see if fire de- partment is responding. Male dispatcher tries to transfer woman, but call is lost.

* 10:23 p.m.: Woman calls to tell dispatch about the fire and that a man is trapped in a bedroom in Room 202. Female dispatcher tells caller to evacuate as many people as she can.

* 10:24: Fire station six blocks away from the apartment complex is alerted by dispatchers.

* 10:25 p.m.: Male dispatcher tells female caller yelling about the fire, “That’s not my problem.”

* 10:27 p.m.: First firefighters arrive at the apartment complex.

* 10:39 p.m.: Firefighters fully extinguish fire in Apartment 202.

* 10:51 p.m.: Hardy Bell is found in critical condition in a closet buried under a pile of clothes, books and magazines.


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