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Spotsylvania investigates reason for delayed response to house fire
BY JEFF BRANSCOME
Problems hearing a radio transmission and limited staffing at a rural Spotsylvania County fire station delayed the response to a house fire in Lake Wilderness earlier this year, a report shows.
The crew from Wilderness Station 7 on Orange Plank Road took 10 minutes to arrive at the fire, even though the house on Dubin Drive was just 1.3 miles away.
Mark Kuechler, who reviewed the fire and is chair of the Fire and EMS Commission, said it should've taken five to seven minutes to reach the home.
The fire on Jan. 28 destroyed the one-story house and killed 25 of the 27 pets that were inside.
Kuechler and three other officials from the Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management reviewed the incident. One is a paid employee and the others, including Kuechler, are volunteers.
A major cause of the delay was that the firefighters said they did not hear a dispatcher's announcement to respond in a fire engine, according to a report obtained by The Free Lance-Star. They initially thought they were supposed to leave the station in a tanker--which provides water for fire engines--and the confusion caused the delay.
Officials have been unable to determine why firefighters didn't hear the announcement over the station's loudspeakers.
After a similar situation in March at the same station, however, a radio technician found interfering signals and static.
"This adds up to the potential to miss a transmission or parts of the same," the report states. "Corrections are ongoing."
The county has had issues with its emergency radio system over the years and last year hired a consultant to evaluate it for $121,000.
County Administrator Doug Barnes said the current system, installed in 1998, is outdated and needs to be replaced.
Also, the county's three radio towers do not provide as much coverage as officials would like, he said.
The consultant's report will be released soon, Barnes said. It's unclear if the ongoing issues with the radio system caused delays in responding to the Jan. 28 fire.
The fire report also states that a secondary cause of the delay was the weekend staffing arrangement.
Career firefighters are paid overtime to staff Wilderness Station 7 and three other rural stations from 6 p.m. on Fridays until 5 a.m. on Mondays because of a shortage of volunteers.