Nebraska First Responders to Attend Debriefing after Fatal Fire


Bellevue rescuers involved in fighting a fatal fire on Wednesday are required to attend a debriefing on Thursday.

A Bellevue apartment fire claimed the lives of three people, including two children and a 16-year-old baby sitter, and was apparently started by a child playing with a lighter, authorities said.

The victims are 16-year-old Almadelie Guevara, 2-year-old Nevaeh Estrada, and 11-month old Angela Zamarripa.

Four other children escaped the fire and three are now in foster care.

Bellevue police, fire and rescue crews will have counselors available to them starting Thursday and for months to come, authorities said, as they deal with the fire's aftermath.

The seven children were inside an apartment at the Southgate Town Homes, at 2846 Kansas Drive. Police said the call for help was received at about 10 a.m. and two officers and an arson investigator went to check it out. Capt. Herb Evers of the Bellevue Police Department said there was so much smoke and heat that the crew members could not get in -- in part because they did not have the proper equipment with them -- and they called for backup.

"(They) tried their best with the equipment they had to save lives and they couldn't save lives," said Evers.

Police said the 16-year-old was found dead inside the apartment. Two children -- ages 2 and 11 months -- were taken to a hospital, where they died.

The first responders who arrived escaped major injuries, but their leaders said the emotional trauma will continue.

Firefighters in full gear arrived and were able to locate and bring out the bodies of the fire victims.

"Coming out and carrying those charred little bodies, then you've got that personal contact for some of those dads," Evers said.

Evers said most of the first-responders are parents themselves, and being close to a fire like the one at Southgate will have an impact on them.

"They're people," Evers said. "They're parents. They've got kids of their own. When you see that, when you see a child victim, it's just tough."

"You go in hoping for the best and hoping that's what you do get, and sometimes you don't," said Jack Syphers of the Bellevue Fire Department.

Syphers is both a police officer of 25 years and a volunteer firefighter of 35 years. He said that all of those involved in Wednesday's fire will be part of a critical incident stress debriefing team Thursday to help them cope.

"If somebody else has to express their thoughts or feeling, then somebody else is here to be the ear and listen to them," Syphers said.

Seldin Co., which owns and manages the Southgate Town Homes, contradicted firefighters, who said they did not hear smoke detectors going off when they arrived. A statement from Seldin said witnesses reported hearing the alarms.

The company president also expressed sympathy for the families involved and pledged to make every effort to find homes for displaced residents.