POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Several Polk County leaders faced questions Wednesday regarding how firefighters responded to a November fire that killed a 76-year-old woman.
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Loretta Pickard was on the phone with 911 while firefighters were outside her burning home on November 23, 2018.
Reporters were told that a firefighter in charge at the scene that night, Captain James Williams, would speak to them off-camera Wednesday morning. Instead, however, it was Deputy County Manager for Public Safety Joe Halman and Fire Chief Anthony Stravino who took questions and did what they could to provide answers.
"A horrible situation"
Stravino said he had reviewed the Polk Fire Rescue response that night and believed firefighters when they concluded it was too dangerous for them to get inside Pickard's log cabin-style home.
“They are telling me by evidence of their injuries that they couldn’t make entry," said Stravino. "They couldn’t make entry. It’s horrible. It’s a horrible situation.”
Williams was suspended for 24 hours for sending a Snapchat video of the fire from the scene because that violated department social media policy.
Stravino seemed unsure if Loretta Pickard was alive when the video was sent, but said the fire was too out of control at the time to have saved Pickard.
Halman: No cover-up
Halman, meanwhile, rejected the idea officials were involved in a cover-up.
“I, as the deputy county manager, would not cover up for anybody, and to say and suggest that is disheartening," he said.
Both Halman and Stravino said they were open to an outside review of the incident. County Commissioner George Lindsey attended the press conference and said he would like to hear from anyone with inside information.
“I want to hear from anybody who has first-hand knowledge of it," he said.
Both the Polk County Sheriff's office and Fire Marshal's office are conducting standard reviews of the fire because it involved a death.
The Polk County Sheriff's Office tells Spectrum News it updated procedures for 911 operators after the fire. In the rare circumstance a caller is inside a burning structure, the operator is supposed to tell the caller every thirty seconds to leave the structure if it is safe to do so.
The new protocol also includes the following:
"If while on the call it is determined that the fire department is unable to make entry, and all other means of assistance have been exhausted, the caller must be told to exit the building immediately.
If the caller is unsure on how to escape, they must be told to use any means necessary to get out of the structure. In these situations, once protocol is complete, the call taker must tell the caller ‘Help is unable to reach you. You have to get out of the house now, and use any means necessary to do so.’
This phrase must be repeated every 30 seconds until the caller exits the building or the call is complete.”
To read the full Training Bulletin issued by the Polk County Sheriff's Office, click HERE.