LAKELAND, Fla. — An exhaustive report detailing the deadly fire in which a 76-year-old woman died and a Polk County Fire Rescue captain resigned amid controversy laid out 24 key findings for improved service.
Much of the findings, however, were previously known to the public through various media reports.
One of the findings released Monday found that a computer with vital rescue information was down and such information never was communicated verbally to firefighters. A working computer is not mandatory equipment.
“It’s kind of a shame to me that our county … spent $36,000 to do a report that the media and public record has already done for them,” said Amber Addison, the niece of Loretta Pickard, who was killed in the fire.
Pickard called 911 as a fire ripped through her log home on Nov. 23, 2018. Her family said she couldn’t move because of recent surgery, and she couldn’t escape by herself. The report found she told the dispatcher about her location in the house, doorways and where the fire might be located.
Even as Pickard and a dispatcher remained on the line for more than 20 minutes — and firefighters responded — no one reached the home in an attempt to save her.
Captain James Williams relayed there was too great a risk to enter Pickard’s home, according to an earlier report about the incident. Fire rescue also indicated the difficulty in reaching her home and getting water on top of the growing inferno.
It later would be revealed Williams, who had fewer than two years as a captain, sent Snapchat images from the scene and was suspended for 24 hours, or the equivalent of three days’ pay. 10News in mid-February uncovered another video that Williams appeared to have taken and shared from another fire five days earlier.
Pickard’s family was outraged. Williams was placed on administrative duty and later resigned. Documents obtained by 10News showed Williams was about to be fired anyway.
The report, however, mentions nothing about Williams’ use of social media while on scene that night.
Among the 24 findings in the post-incident analysis released by Emergency Services Consulting International, a third-party tasked with reviewing Polk County Fire Rescue’s response, five were considered the most important.
The report found the caller, in this case, Pickard, “provided considerable information” about her home and how to enter it as the fire burned, according to the top finding. Such information was put in a computer-aided dispatch system, but the first arriving crew at the scene of the fire had a computer that wasn’t working.
The information, seemingly vital for rescue, was not communicated verbally on the radio — and it’s not required by protocol, the report found.
However, initial dispatches to crews did indicate someone was “trapped” inside the burning home, yet the report indicates neither Williams nor the other firefighters arrived with tools needed to execute a rescue.
“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,” the report reads. “The officer and firefighter reported that they did not take any tools or other firefighter equipment with them to the scene.”
The consulting agency recommended to Polk County fire rescue and Polk County Sheriff’s Office dispatchers to come up with guidelines for verbal communication of vital information to crews.
The second most important finding, according to the report, details that while officers saw notes in the dispatch system, no one got on the radio. In interviews after the fire, some wished they reported the notes.
The report said all responders — regardless of rank and position — should be empowered to say something.
From start to finish, the report is 242 pages long.
The Polk County Board of County Commissioners is scheduled to be given a presentation about the report by the Emergency Services Consulting International at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.