W.Va. Firefighters Cope With Emotions After Fatal Fire

A somber Charleston Fire Department is grappling with the stress of the horrific scene faced by its members over the weekend.

Monday was the first day back on the job for the firefighters and paramedics who responded to a West Side house fire that left nine people dead early Saturday. Seven of the victims were under the age of 9.

First responders went through a "defusing" session Monday morning with a critical incident stress management team and will go through a debriefing session in the coming days.

The team is made up of paramedics from the Kanawha County Ambulance Authority and volunteers from neighboring fire departments.

"The mood is pretty somber right now," Fire Lt. Alisha Samples said. "It's really difficult for all of us to deal with."

She said the crisis team and department administrators would be keeping an eye on the crew that responded to the fire.

"The guys work together every day, and most of them are pretty close, so they'll be able to tell if someone is having problems with it," Samples said.

One firefighter who worked the fire told Chief Chuck Overstreet Monday morning he was thinking of leaving the job.

"He said he wasn't sure this was the job for him after this," Overstreet said. "I understand. He's got five or six years on the job and a couple of little ones at home.

"I can only imagine what those guys are going through after having to touch those little kids. It's rough."

Overstreet, who has been with the department more than 20 years, said Saturday's fire was the worst the city had ever seen because of the loss of life, especially that of the children.

"You just don't know," Overstreet said. "We've never dealt with anything like this."

Firefighters and paramedics weren't the only ones on the scene, however.

Police officers helped firefighters by moving hose lines, driving ambulances and performing CPR on victims, Samples said.

"Those guys were jumping right in, and whatever we needed them to do, they were there," Overstreet said. "We help each other."

"We believe it is no surprise that the officers of the CPD stepped up in a time of need," Police Sgt. Bobby Eggleton said Monday. "The firefighters are our brothers and sisters, and they would do the same for us if needed."

Police officers recently received training in tactical first aid. Officers lacked that training two years ago when Patrolman Jerry Jones was fatally wounded by friendly fire. In the wake of that tragedy, the fire department decided to provide further first aid training to officers.

Samples said 48 to 50 first responders were on the scene at 2 Arlington Ave. Saturday.

Firefighters were called to the two-story wood frame home just after 3:20 a.m.

Latasha Jones-Isabell, 24, who lived in the home with her sister, Lisa Carter-Camp, 26, and their five children, was smoking a cigarette outside when she noticed the fire. She ran to a neighbor's for help.

Carter-Camp's boyfriend, Alex Seal of Pittsburgh, and his twin daughters also were staying with the women. The family had been celebrating Carter-Camp's 26th birthday, which fell on Saturday.

All but Jones-Isabell died.

The cause remains unknown but investigators said Monday they saw nothing indicating the fire was suspicious.

Investigators from the Charleston Fire Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the state Fire Marshal's Office have been working at the charred remains since Saturday.

Investigators found a container in the home that held a candle, Assistant Fire Chief Bob Sharp said.

"That is a possible source of ignition," Sharp said. "That's definitely a possibility."

Firefighters still have interviews to conduct but are not pushing family members as they prepare for memorial services, Sharp said.

"We will be talking to the family members when they're ready," he said.

Investigators found some smoke detectors in the home, but only one was operational and it was placed in an improper location.

Firefighters did not release any further information on the investigation Monday.

Walton Breckenridge Chapel of Faith Funeral Home in Charleston will handle services for Elijah Scott, 3, and Emanuel Jones, 18 months.

Durgan Funeral Home in Beckley will handle arrangements for Carter-Camp, her daughter Keahana Camp, 8, and sons Bryan Timothy Camp, 7, and Jeremiah Camp, 3.

Arrangements for Alex Seal and his daughters Kiki and Gigi were not immediately known.

Copyright 2012 Charleston Newspapers