Clearwater Florida, Report of Fatal Condo Fire Released
Several months go I posted a report of a multi-alarm fire in a condominum in Clearwater Florida. The fire resulted in 2 civilian fatalities and 5 firefighter injuries. Two of the Firefighters received severe burns. Here is a link to the report as issued by the Fire Chief.
Additionally, here is a link to the 911 tape.
The Controversy Continues
As the controversy over this fire continues, here are some letters to the Editor in today's St. Petersburg Times.
POST FIRE--Condominium Officials Ask For Help
Stating that only a few residents even bothered to acknowledge the alarm that morning the Association is asking for guidance.
Follow Up Story--Residents Sue...Fire Dept Gag Order
Residents to sue over condo fire
The estate of a woman who died and two Dolphin Cove residents notify Clearwater they plan to sue.
By JENNIFER FARRELL, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 10, 2002
CLEARWATER -- The estate of the 81-year-old grandmother who died from burns and smoke inhalation after a fire at Dolphin Cove condominiums on Island Estates has notified the city of plans to sue.
Filed by the estate of Jean Zetterberg, the notice accuses the city of negligence in relation to the fire at the 11-story building, which erupted in flames before dawn on June 28, after a kitchen fire started in the fifth-floor unit where Zetterberg's son and teenage granddaughter lived.
Two other residents of Dolphin Cove, 83-year-old John Sokolich and 37-year-old Anne Yaro, also put the city on notice they will sue.
The threat of litigation prompted Fire Chief Rowland Herald to issue a gag order Monday for department staff regarding questions about the fire.
"Clearwater Fire and Rescue personnel shall not comment or respond to any questions regarding the above-named incident until this directive is lifted," Herald wrote in a memo circulated Monday to department staff.
On Wednesday, City Manager Bill Horne said the gag order, which was recommended by City Attorney Pam Akin, extends to all city employees.
"All of us are kind of gagged from commenting on anything that is potentially in litigation," he said.
The fire at Dolphin Cove, which also killed 75-year-old Robert Kelly and sent five firefighters to the hospital, spurred a six-week investigation by the city. Investigators labeled the blaze an accident, but identified several factors that combined to create trouble.
The building, which was built in the mid 1970s, does not have sprinklers, and investigators estimate several minutes passed before residents called 911.
Firefighters also were frustrated by a broken hydrant outside the building, and inside, they struggled with the building's hose system, part of which had been shut off at the source.
It took firefighters 28 minutes to get water on the fire.
According to separate letters filed by Clearwater lawyer Tom Carey, Yaro and Sokolich suffered injuries.
Clearwater lawyer Terence Perenich, who is representing Zetterberg's estate, declined to comment on the specifics of any potential claim.
-- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report, which contains information from Times files.
St. Petersburg Times Editorial
This is an editorial in the St. Pete Times... Related to this story as well as the one on FH.Com Main Page
A Times Editorial
Firefighters must have proper training to deal with highrise fires to avoid the situation Clearwater firefighters encountered at Dolphin Cove condominiums.
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 18, 2002
Clearwater residents who live in multistory buildings should fear for their lives if they have been depending on the Clearwater Fire Department to save them in a fire.
That is the inescapable conclusion of a months-long St. Petersburg Times investigation of a June fire that killed two residents of an 11-story condominium building and seriously injured several firefighters.
No one is pointing fingers at individual firefighters who responded to the alarm before dawn June 28. They tried to do their jobs despite the difficult conditions they encountered at the Dolphin Cove condominium: a fifth-floor kitchen fire that roared out of control and filled the narrow hallway, a broken fire hydrant and dry interior standpipe that left fire hoses dry, soaring heat that burned firefighters through their heavy bunker gear, and residents who were so accustomed to false alarms that they were slow to evacuate.
But Wednesday's story by Times reporter Jennifer Farrell showed that poor performance by the Fire Department contributed to the tragic outcomes that day. Clearwater firefighters have not been sufficiently trained in highrise firefighting techniques. And the fire officers who should have taken charge and directed them that day did not do so. The scene dissolved into chaos as department guidelines were violated, firefighters got trapped or missed assignments, and rescuers yelled repeatedly for water or for help, talking over each other on the radio.
Two experienced and respected retired fire commanders who reviewed the Clearwater department's performance at Dolphin Cove for the Times found the number of deficiencies chilling. "They had no control of what their men were doing," said one. The operation, said the other, was "the product of a department in disarray."
Rank-and-file Clearwater firefighters who spoke to the Times before the city attorney issued a gag order did not try to deny that their department is in trouble. Said one, "There's no training. People are going to die."
Clearwater officials ought to be scrambling to correct the department's command deficiencies, institute new protocols and get firefighters more highrise training in environments outside of a classroom.
Instead, they are in denial. The Fire Department's own formal assessment of its performance at Dolphin Cove was embarrassingly inadequate. Clearwater Fire Chief Rowland Herald, City Manager Bill Horne and Mayor Brian Aungst have all defended the department, its staffing and its training in the presence of clear evidence of the department's shortcomings. They may believe that in doing so they are protecting the city from the impact of lawsuits that will be filed over the Dolphin Cove fire, but those answers betray their obligation to protect public safety above all else and to be honest with city residents.
About 80 percent of the Clearwater Fire Department's calls for service are medical, not fire-related. The situation is similar in fire departments all over the country. As old, fire-prone structures have been demolished and as multistory buildings have been required to install sprinklers, the number of fires has gone down. But fire departments still must train strenuously for firefighting, especially in highrise buildings where the potential loss of life in a fire is so great.
Residents who live in highrises and are counting on the training and professionalism of firefighters in a fire -- no matter what city they live in -- need to aggressively question their fire officials about the type of highrise training that is provided and how frequently, how many firefighters are dispatched to fires, and how prepared their department is to cope in a variety of highrise fire scenarios.
As the Dolphin Cove fire proved, their local fire department may not be ready at all.
Follow Up...Firefighter Sues
St. Petersburg Times (North Pinellas)
Injured firefighter sues condo association
The suit alleges Dolphin Cove Association Inc. failed to properly maintain its fire extinguishing system.
By JENNIFER FARRELL, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 8, 2003
CLEARWATER -- A city firefighter burned in a deadly June blaze at a high rise on Island Estates is suing the building's homeowners association for negligence.
Stephen C. Colbert and his wife, Jeannine, are seeking more than $15,000 in damages from Dolphin Cove Association Inc., following the June 28 condo fire that killed two residents and sent five firefighters to the hospital, three with severe burns.
Colbert, hailed as a hero after the fire for pulling fellow firefighter Karen Jackson to safety, suffered severe and lasting injuries, according to the complaint.
Filed in October, the suit alleges the association failed to properly maintain its fire extinguishing system. Colbert, 37, a seven-year department veteran, was among the first firefighters to arrive on the scene. He was unable to put water on the blaze because the building's hose system was dry, according to the complaint.
Clearwater fire officials later found the hose system did have water, but the pipe at the center of the building -- the first place firefighters tapped -- had been shut off at the source.
Inspectors also found several door closers had been removed by residents.
On Tuesday, association president Frank Pound said the building had been inspected regularly. He scoffed at the lawsuit and accused firefighters of flawed tactics.
"All the fire extinguishers worked," he said. "The water that they should have used worked."
The fire started in the kitchen of a unit on the fifth floor, then smoldered and built for 28 minutes before firefighters were able to hit it with water.
Clearwater fire officials said Dolphin Cove suffered a "flashover," a rare kind of explosion in a confined space that causes the very air to catch fire.
The explosion felled 75-year-old Robert Kelly and 81-year-old Jean Zetterberg, both of whom died of their injuries.
Lawyers representing Zetterberg's family have scheduled a news conference today at 10 a.m. Clearwater lawyer Greg Perenich said there is evidence to show the fire was not caused by Zetterberg's son, Charles. A fire investigation found the fire started on his stove, with a burner left on low.
The city, meanwhile, is facing several lawsuits related to the fire, after it was discovered that a broken hydrant outside the building had not been repaired or tagged out of service.
This fall, the city announced plans to seek two independent reviews of the fire after the Times published a report detailing numerous violations of the department's own guidelines and failures to follow accepted firefighting practices at Dolphin Cove.
A woman who answered the phone at Colbert's home declined to comment Tuesday.
-- Jennifer Farrell can be reached at 445-4160 or firstname.lastname@example.org ">email@example.com .
Another Law Suit File By Victims Family
I am in total agreement with BLACKSHEEP. None of us were there (at least I was not) and therefore do not know what transpired. As an incident commander I have also put myself in the IC's shoes and can only say..."better him than me." As he said...perhaps mistakes were made...again..we do not know....but great credit should be given to the department for overcoming the obstacles they faced and for stopping the fire as they did. And also...as he said...lets not overlook the heroic efforts of the firefighters to save not only thier own but the residents...
Here is the link to the story relating to the family filing suit. I included the link rather than cut and pasting as it has a picture in it.