Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania Fire Chief To Probe Response To Ason

WILKES-BARRE - Fire Chief Jacob Lisman said Tuesday he believes the response time to an arson at 73 Hutson St. was acceptable, but he's agreed to investigate because the fire victims raised concerns.

Lisman said Sharon and Vaughn Koter complained it took crews 20 to 25 minutes to arrive. The fire was called in at 2:49 a.m. But Lisman said he reviewed dispatch tapes Tuesday and determined crews were at the scene in less than 10 minutes.

The Hutson Street blaze was one of three fires within a city block that were set early Saturday morning. Michael Boyle, 23, of Wilkes-Barre, was charged Saturday with setting the fires. He remained in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility for lack of bail Tuesday.

Lisman said firefighters were battling the first fire at the White House Cafe at 198 Hazle Ave. when the call for the Hutson Street fire came in. He said all manpower had been directed to the cafe because there was a report that the owner, Helen Pacewicz, was trapped inside.

"We had an elderly woman trapped in the building. We had a 'Plan B' to send another engine (to the other fire) and that's what we did. The time I'm looking at is very acceptable."

Pacewicz was rescued from the home. Lisman said she appeared to suffer minor smoke inhalation. Information on her condition could not be obtained Tuesday.

While fighting the Hutson Street fire, firefighters were called to Joseph Harris' residence at 62 Columbus St. A neighbor extinguished that fire.

Lisman said that although he's satisfied with the department's response, he agreed to investigate to ensure everything was handled appropriately. He said he intends to interview people who were at the scene and speak with the county's 911 center.

Attempts to reach Vaughn Koter were unsuccessful Tuesday. A woman who answered the phone at the home twice said he was not available for comment.

City fire inspector William Sharksnas said furniture on the front porch at Hutson Street was set on fire. Sharksnas said the Koters were donating the furniture to the victims of last week's Sturdevant Street fire.

City police said Boyle admitted setting the White House Cafe fire, telling officers he does not like black people. The bar serves a predominantly black clientele. He also admitted to the other fires, police said.

Boyle was a volunteer firefighter with the Hanover Township fire department about five years ago, said Township Fire Chief Stanley Browski. He was terminated for breaking fire department regulations, Browski said. Browski said he could not provide further details, but said Boyle was not accused of setting fires in the township.