Missouri Fatal Fire Response Time Questioned

WESTON, Mo. -- A fatal fire on July 4 has reopened what appeared to be healing wounds between residents and the West Platte Fire Protection District.

George Treese, of Weston, died in a fire at his business, Old Geezer's Mantiques, a local antique store at 540 Main St. Similar to a 2010 blaze in Weston, the circumstances that surround it remain sketchy.

The small conference room in the fire protection district's building was crowded Monday evening as about 25 people gathered to voice their opinions about the fire and highlight a video allegedly showing firefighters taking 14 minutes before beginning to extinguish the blaze.

"(Police) Chief Terry Blanton did an excellent job, every city employee did an excellent job. But the video shows 14 minutes of no water being put on the fire," Jonathon Phillips, a Weston resident, said.

Stating a group of about 40 people viewed the video on Sunday, Mr. Phillips said they have formed to express their outrage with what is shown on it.

"The video itself raised more questions than answers. I'm not a firefighter, I don't know what exactly is going on. I just know what I see in those 14-and-a-half minutes," he said.

Asking to show the video during the meeting to the fire protection district board and Weston Mayor C.R. Carter, Mr. Phillips was refused since fire district officials had not yet viewed it.

"I do not feel comfortable looking at the video before the chief of the fire department and fire protection district were to see it. I do not think that would be very fair to them," Mr. Carter said.

The fire appeared to exacerbate a rift between the public and fire protection district that began in 2010 as a result of an incident known as the "Bless house fire," where firefighters allegedly couldn't put out a blaze because of fire hydrant problems. No one was injured.

The incident highlighted conflicts between the city and fire protection district, as well as helped realize the need to fix hydrants.

"The city held up its end of the bargain. We said we need a hydrant map, it's in the works and it's coming. The hydrants have been tested and fixed," Mr. Phillips said.

Results of the July 4 fire remain to be seen as city and fire district officials have yet to view the video and make a decision on further steps to take.

"I would like to see this go to the fire district board and go to the fire chief, as well. So ... they can learn from, if there's anything to learn from it and let them decide what matters need to be taken," Mr. Carter said.

Waiting until the fire district's meeting on July 27, Weston residents said they will remain vigilant in voicing their opinion on the matter.

"I guess what I'll do is go to the fire board and they just need to review and receive these. Maybe they can explain some the issues," Sue Phillips said.

A friend of Mr. Treese, Pete McCaffery, a Platte County resident, said despite the tragedy, he hopes it can turn into a positive result for the community.

"I hope the good that comes out of it is we get a more effective fire department, better leadership," he said. "I just believe that by doing this, we're going to get some improvements."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service