Investigation Ordered in Handling of Fatal Minnesota Fire

April 29, 2008
The March 5 fire killed James Verdi Blackford, 86, who died of smoke inhalation.

OAK GROVE, Minn. -- An investigation has been ordered into how the Oak Grove Fire Department handled a fatal house fire.

The March 5 fire killed James Verdi Blackford, 86, who died of smoke inhalation.

Oak Grove City Council members approved hiring a consultant to do an investigation into questions and allegations brought forth by members of the fire department.

These allegations and questions include a delay in getting into the burning house to rescue Blackford and a failure to follow department protocol, including holding a critique and debriefing on the call.

The allegations were brought before the council by Oak Grove Firefighter Jon Faanes, who read a prepared statement during the public forum portion of the April 14 city council meeting.

"It has been hard on many firefighters," Faanes said about the fatal fire.

At the April 14 meeting, Faanes expressed concern to the council about how the fire department handled the call.

"Why did it take us 30 minutes to enter the building," Faanes said.

If firefighters had entered the house sooner, Blackford likely would have survived the fire, he said.

In addition to the concerns about how the fire scene was handled, Faanes said standard follow-up practices did not take place after the fire.

The call, Faanes told the council, was not critiqued as is standard protocol.

There was also no debriefing on the incident, he said in his prepared April 14 statement.

Later that meeting, during the mayor/council requests and updates portion, Councilmember Kristen Anderson requested that a discussion of the fire department be put on the next agenda.

Councilmembers discussed the allegations and possible action during the work session portion of Monday (April 28) night's meeting.

During the regular council meeting, Councilmember Brad LaTourneau made a motion to authorize the city administrator and attorney make an arrangement with a consultant to do an independent investigation into the questions and allegations brought against the fire department.

Before voting on the action April 28, Mayor Jim Iund said there needs to be disciplinary action taken whatever the outcome of the investigation.

"These are serious allegations," he said.

Iund called for disciplinary action, including possible dismissal from the fire department, against those bringing allegations, if proven untrue, and against those in charge, if proven true.

"It needs to go both ways," Iund said.

The council unanimously approved the independent investigation of the allegations brought forth by Faanes.

Anderson, who had been present for the earlier council work session on the allegations, had left the regular council meeting due to a medical emergency and was not present for the vote.

Republished with permission of The Anoka County Union.

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