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Insider questions Spotsylvania rescue attempt in deadly fire that took youngster’s life

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SPOTSYLVANIA, Va. -- An insider at the Spotsylvania Fire Department contacted CBS 6 news multiple times about a recent fire that killed a twelve-year-old girl and her grandmother last month.

The insider said that firefighters waited too long to try to rescue the victims. Fire Chief Monty Willaford sat down to respond to CBS 6 questions.

He said that the call for the fire on Fox Gate Drive came in and his crews scrambled to the scene and that they arrived in six minutes.

Fire Chief Monty Willaford spoke to CBS 6.

Fire Chief Monty Willaford spoke to CBS 6.

He said they were immediately faced with water problems; in less than four and a half minutes the water in their pumper truck was gone. There were no hydrants on the scene because the neighborhood doesn’t have them.

The water they used to combat the intense fire had to be trucked in by tankers.

The insider at the Spotsylvania Fire Department believed the rescue of the child and her grandmother could have happened sooner because the room in which they were trapped had no flames.

 

Fire Chief Willaford said that the rescue, that in its entirety, took about 18 minutes.

He explained that extreme heat and smoke in the room posed the greatest danger.

“It’s not just about flames,” he said. “Plastics, paper and household furnishings can survive heat that human bodies, skin, lung tissue cannot survive.”

The chief said firefighters experienced a large amount of heat when the window was opened.

“I believe it was collecting in the ceiling,” Willaford said. “He used a TIC camera, a thermal imaging camera to determine the heat was significant in the room.”

Roanna Hill (PHOTO: Hill family)

Roanna Hill (PHOTO: Hill family)

He said not only was there a hazard from the smoke environment, there was also a roof and ceiling collapse hazard that had to be considered.

The chief spoke about other challenges the crew faced that day. For example, he said, spotty radio service was a problem. The crews had to resort to face to face communication much of the time because of poor radio service.

He said that particular problem that will soon be addressed with an $18 million dollar overhaul.

Willaford said they have already received the new radios and the remaining phases of implementing the system should be completed in coming months.

As for those who are questioning if the fire rescue was properly handled, the chief said this.

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“I believe the people that operated that day followed training, used good skill, and good thought process. They followed protocol and considered everything,” he said.
“They balanced it all to bring the situation under control, even though it wasn't as successful as we would have liked it to be.”

Willaford, responded when asked, that yes there are things that could have been done differently next time.

“What works at one call might not work at another,” he said. “So, yes we will always look at things and what we could do differently.

“Again, I don’t feel like there were mistakes made,” he added.” You look at the outcome and try to build on a more successful outcome in the future.”

The chief also emphasized that his department conducts debriefings anytime there is a fatality.

This is done so that the team can discuss their performance and respond to the emotional component that accompanies the event.

He said after the fire they had a few of those sessions for crews who wanted to attend.

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