Dispatch Mistake Blamed in Response to Fatal Indiana Fire
The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Ind.
Heather Kennedy said she did everything she could to help the victims of Saturday’s triple-fatal fire, but she is haunted by memories of the horrific blaze and an honest mistake the Fort Wayne Fire Department said she made while calling it in.
As she desperately looked for signs for cross streets while being driven in a car by her fiance, Chris Davis, the department said Kennedy told an emergency dispatcher that the fire was on West Jefferson Boulevard rather than the actual address at 722 E. Jefferson Blvd.
"I keep going over and over in my mind what I said. Did I tell them West Jefferson? I don’t believe I did," Kennedy said. "It’s weighed so heavy on my mind. It’s horrible. The whole experience is horrible."
The fire killed Brandi A. Bender, 23, and her sons Nicholas Adkins, 5, and Peyton Bender, 4. A man who the department has not identified was seriously hurt. The cause of the fire is expected to be announced by week’s end, according to department spokeswoman Susan Banta.
Kennedy said she and Davis were headed east on Jefferson when out of the corner of her eye she saw a naked man leaning out of the second-floor window of the house, which was rapidly becoming engulfed in smoke and flames. As Davis rounded a corner into an alley off of East Jefferson, Kennedy said she frantically looked for a street sign to give an exact location to the dispatcher.
"I was panicking. I was scared," Kennedy recalled Tuesday. "Chris was yelling from the driver’s seat, ‘Tell her we were coming from West Jefferson going east! We were going towards New Haven!’ She asked me for an exact address (but) I couldn’t give her one."
Banta said she was unsure how many minutes the confusion delayed firefighters’ response, but doubts it cost lives, because of the intensity of the fire. Banta said the department issued a news release on Saturday about the confusion to let people know dispatchers were not at fault, but said Kennedy has nothing to be ashamed of. "She was trying to be helpful," Banta said. "We certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from calling in with information."
Compounding Kennedy’s memories of Saturday’s fire are recollections of the one she and her family survived when their house on Belle Avenue burned in 1994.
"I feel angry that something like this could happen to an innocent mother and her children and their family," Kennedy said. "I know how that family feels. I didn’t lose anyone in (my) house fire and I feel guilty (to) be saying I’m fortunate, because they did."