Ambulance Sent to Ga. Fire Instead of Fire Truck

FAIRBURN, Ga. --

When a home on Garvey Drive exploded and caught fire last month, the only operating truck at the closest Fulton County fire station was an ambulance, Channel 2 Action News has learned.

Several firefighter/medics from Station 15 on Gullatt Road climbed on board and responded, but counted on fire engines from the Fairburn Fire Department instead.

"I didn't know what was going on. I was like ‘why would they send an ambulance if it's a fire?’ " said Deitrick Carter, who lives two houses down.

Carter ran outside when the explosion shook his house, and saw flames shooting from his neighbor's home. His wife called 911.

"An ambulance showed up quicker than the fire truck did. They was here, but they couldn't do nothing," Carter said.

Fulton County Fire Chief Larry Few told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer, that he had reassigned Engine 15 to cover a busier station that day, because Engine 7 was down for maintenance.

He said the usual backup engine was also in disrepair.

Fleischer reviewed the maintenance records and found Fulton County fire trucks lost a total of 110 days of operation due to maintenance this summer. Most of those were engines.

"I can't remember it being this hot and the weather taking its toll on my equipment and people like it did this year," said Few. He added that shifting equipment to fill voids is routine.

"But it's never your ideal situation to have an ambulance be the only piece of equipment?" asked Fleischer. "No, no, no, you're correct on that, it's not an ideal situation," replied Few. "At any given day, equipment can go down. And sometimes if it's on the weekend, you're gonna be out of service and you're gonna need that partner to help out. It's not something I would like to do on a frequent basis," he added.

Channel 2 filed an open records request to hear the 911 traffic for the Garvey Drive call, in which the Battalion 1 Chief called dispatch to say, "How about requesting Fairburn respond to that location 'til additional engines can get on scene from Fulton County?" That request was made about a minute after the initial dispatch of Fulton County's engines.

Few said he had already alerted Fairburn and other neighboring cities' departments to respond to fires in Station 15's area. He had also said he contacted the city of Atlanta Fire Department and DeKalb County Fire Rescue, but neither had an available engine for Fulton County to borrow.

Few told Fleischer 75 percent of his department's calls are medical, and for those an ambulance is a perfectly acceptable response, so he stands by his decision. He said he did the best he could with the resources he had at the time.

Fairburn firefighters handled the Garvey Drive fire until enough Fulton County trucks arrived. Fulton County Police said a person found in the blaze, Beverly Bland, was strangled before the fire started. An adult male died of smoke inhalation in the fire. Firefighters noted a strong odor of gasoline at the scene and have said that they suspect arson.

Few said, "My heart goes out to the family. But if we would have been there with 100 firefighters, in what occurred here, it wouldn't have made a difference." He added, "What occurred, I would say, was the perfect storm. But the system did not break down."

But Deitrick Carter thinks Fulton County can do better.

"If it was a quick response time, the house next door wouldn't have caught on fire. Our house wouldn't have been in danger of catching on fire," Carter said.

Few told Fleischer the Fulton County Fire Department is in the process of applying for a federal grant to buy three new fire engines next year. He said the Garvey Drive fire is an example of why he so badly needs them.

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