Denver Fire Officials Probing 90-Minute Response

By the time Denver Fire Department sent an engine, 90 minutes after the first 911 call, the house was fully involved.


DENVER -- The Denver Fire Department is reviewing its policies after a fire truck was dispatched nearly 90 minutes after a neighbor called 911 and reported smelling smoke.

The fire heavily damaged the home at 2634 Ivanhoe St.7NEWS has learned the city will investigate the slow response time on the fire.

 

"Clearly 90 minutes is unacceptable," City Council Member Chris Herndon told 7NEWS reporter Marc Stewart.

"I absolutely know a thorough investigation will be done so it doesn't happen again," Herndon added.

Denver resident Torry Hughes told 7NEWS he received a call from his adult son around 4 a.m. The son, who lives a block away from Hughes, told him that he was getting ready for work when he smelled smoke in the neighborhood.

Hughes said he went out to walk the dog around 5:30 a.m. when he, too, smelled the smoke. He said it was dark so he couldn't see it."I smelled this heavy smoke. It smelled like something burning and I knew it was not a fireplace… It smelled like a house burning, so I immediately went and called the fire department," Hughes said.

He said he told the fire dispatcher that he smelled a house burning but he didn't know where it coming from."He told me I was the only one that had called and that they got no other calls and if I saw anything like a fire to call back," Hughes said.

“That allegation is under investigation,” said Fire Department spokesman Phil Champagne.

Champagne acknowledges that dispatch received an early morning call.“Denver Fire has always been forthright and upfront,” he said. “The bottom line is … it appears that a call originated around 5:30. They smelled smoke in the area. They didn’t see smoke. They didn’t see flames.”

Champagne said the caller told the dispatcher that the smoke might be a fireplace but he thought it was a house fire.“Our dispatcher screened the call and in essence made a discretionary decision,” Champagne said. “No fire truck was sent.”

Champagne said that was abnormal.“Traditionally we like to send fire trucks to investigate for us. The caveat to that is that even if we had sent a fire truck, there’s a small likelihood that we wouldn’t have found the fire.”

When neighbors noticed specifically where the smoke and fire were coming from, around 7 a.m., they called the fire Department.

When firefighters arrived, the house was engulfed in flames.“We don’t make any excuses,” Champagne said. “We strive to be perfect. Do we fall short on occasion? Absolutely. This is one of those cases where we could have done a better job.”

Video from Airtracker 7 showed smoke billowing out of all four sides of the home around 7:15 a.m.

As firefighters tried to remove bars from the windows on the back of the home, intense flames could be seen sweeping through the basement.

"It makes me very disturbed. I'm very upset about it because I called," Hughes said. "My neighbors all said they smelled it but nobody called. They just said they smelled smoke but couldn't see anything, but I knew something had to be on fire."

The cause of the fire is under investigation. Champagne said it may have originated in the basement and smoldered for some time before burning through the ground floor.

He said no one was home when the blaze broke out and no one was injured.When asked about the breakdown in response, Champagne said the department will look at possible changes in policy.

“We might take away the discretion and put it in writing that whenever a call comes in about smoke, a crew is sent to check it out,” he said.

When asked if they’ve ever been sent out on calls where no fire was found, Champagne responded, “You know, I can’t even count the number of times where that has happened. ”He said they’ll review Friday’s events with firefighters and dispatchers in an effort to keep this from happening again.


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