Ga. House Fire Leaves One Dead, Four Injured

Communication officers with Barrow County Emergency Services received a 911 call at 2:17 a.m. on Sept. 18, 2013, from a passerby reporting a structure fire on Rockwell Church Road in Winder. As firefighters responded more information was coming through the 911 lines.

“We were being advised that there were subjects jumping out of the windows of the home,” commented Public Information Officer Lieutenant Scott Dakin. “One person from the home went to a neighbors to call 911 and reported that an infant was still in the home.”

Original dispatch on a house fire for Barrow County calls for two engines that are staffed with two firefighters, one med unit that is staffed with two cross-trained firefighters and a battalion chief. As communication officers continued to update responding personnel of the situation Battalion Chief Rob Nowakowski requested an additional fire engine and three additional med units. This brought a total of three engines, four med units and a battalion chief responding with a total of 15 firefighters. Deputy Chief John Skinner also responded to this call to assist with incident command.

Upon arrival of Med 6, Fire Medic Brett Skinner found two patients on the scene with reports of two additional patients at a nearby neighbor. Medic Skinner initiated triage with the patients. Upon arrival of Engine 6, Fire Medic Brian Kump established Incident Command. He advised that they had a two story residential structure fully involved with two patients on scene and that they would be in defensive mode. He later advised two additional patients at the neighbor’s and reports of an infant still in the home.

Upon arrival of Battalion 1, Chief Nowakowski assumed incident command and Fire Medic Kimp becoming Operations. After receiving reports on the fire and condition of patients on scene the decision was made to request two medical helicopters. Med 6 and Med 5 were assigned to handle patient care of the two patients and med 4 was sent to the neighbor to check status of the two patients there. Med 4 found two patients and requested a third helicopter for one patient. The fourth patient was later transported to an area hospital.

The fourth med unit was placed on the scene as rehab sector with one of the fire medics being over rehab and the other fire medic reporting for firefighting duty.  The eight personnel on scene, that were not handling patient care started defensive operations.

Due to the driveway being approximately 530 feet from the road at a steep angle, and the hydrant being approximately 1,000 feet further down the road, incident command requested a tender from neighboring Jackson County. After receiving the request and information, Jackson County Fire dispatched two tenders that carried 3,500 gallons each. Barrow County Emergency Services training captain also responded with a reserve engine that could carry 1,500 gallons to assist in shuttle operations. After a little more than an hour of firefighting operations, a knock down was completed and firefighters began extinguishing hot spots.

The departments Fire Investigation Team responded to the scene and after preliminary investigations were started, the decision was made to begin the search for the missing infant. Just before daylight, an approximately 18 month old child was found in the charred remains of the home.

Fire investigators with Barrow County Emergency Services, with the assistance of other specialists, have completed the origin and cause investigation into the fatality fire. “The preliminary fire scene investigation was completed Thursday afternoon by the department,” stated Chief Investigator Lieutenant Blair Darst.  “When a fatality happens in a fire we conduct an extensive investigation to determine the cause.”

The fire started in the area of the sun room and dining room of the home and spread quickly due to the open layout of the home. Investigators have concluded that the most probable cause of the fire was an electrical failure inside the structure. “The Fire Investigation Team would like to thank Forensic And Scientific Testing for their assistance,” commented Lieutenant Darst. “They were able to provide technical assistance that helped us determine the cause.”

 “This was a challenging call for all involved,” commented Chief Dennis Merrifield. “From the communication officers at our 911 center to all on the scene, each person worked hard to get the best result from this incident. With the limited resources on scene, and having four patients and reports of a fifth, each and every person did an incredible job and worked hard for hours. This is not an everyday event, and they all worked so hard and so well to handle this incident. They made this department and the citizens we serve very proud today, amidst this tragic event.” 

Units on scene: Engines 4, 5 and 6, Med 4, 5, 6, and 7, Battalion 1, Car 2,3 and 10