911 Shows Confusion Led to S.C. Response Delay

March 23, 2013
There was a three-minute delay in the response time to the March 16 fire in Carolina Forest's Windsor Green development because the call was transferred to another department.

March 23--CONWAY -- There was a three-minute delay in the response time to the March 16 fire in Carolina Forest's Windsor Green development because the call was transferred to another department, according to information released by Horry County Friday.

Call times from the county's 911 center show the first call came in at 5:08 p.m., but the person taking the call was confused on the location and transferred the call to the city of Myrtle Beach at 5:11 p.m.

Initial reports given to Horry County Council at Tuesday's meeting were that the first call about the fire was received just before 5:12 p.m., reporting a brush fire at 213 Wando River Road in the Ashley Park subdivision, which is separated from the Windsor Green condominium development by power lines. The first engine, from Carolina Forest, arrived less than five minutes later just before 5:17 p.m.

That turned out to be the second call. The original caller was transferred back to the county from Myrtle Beach at 5:13 p.m. and said there was a huge fire by an electrical station near Crab Pond Court, according to 911 information.

Lisa Bourcier, Horry County spokeswoman, said the discrepancy was discovered Thursday. She added the person was a call taker and not a dispatcher.

The call taker, Bourcier said, takes all necessary information when someone dials 911. It's then the dispatcher's job to take that information and determine whether units need to be sent.

Bourcier said this issue is being looked into and is a personnel matter. As of Friday, she wasn't sure what caused the confusion.

There was also no immediate certainty whether those extra three minutes would have changed any of the circumstances that led to 26 condominium buildings burning to the ground and 190 people being left homeless.

"Of course every second counts," Bourcier said.

The 911 tapes from the night of the Windsor Green fire in Carolina Forest showed about 70 people called to report the blaze.

Dispatch comments state that on some of the calls people could be heard screaming for help. One woman called hysterical, saying she needed someone to get her dog.

Callers described the wind as extremely heavy and said there were high-shooting flames. They said power lines and trees were on fire along with the condo buildings.

After the first fire engine arrived additional units were dispatched to the at 5:17 p.m., and it was upgraded to an apartment fire at 5:20 p.m. In total, 63 pieces of firefighting apparatus, such as engines, were used in combating the blaze.

Besides the 20 Horry County fire stations that responded, either with direct response or standby coverage, the county received assistance from the Myrtle Beach Fire Department, North Myrtle Beach Fire Department, Loris Fire Department, Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire Rescue, Conway Fire Department, Mullins Fire Department and Calabash, N.C. Fire Department.

At 5:52 p.m., communications requested the coroner be advised to respond to Carolina Forest Elementary School for staging.

While speaking at the Carolina Forest Civic Association meeting Wednesday night, Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge told attendees they didn't immediately know if there would be mass casualties.

"You don't know if you're looking at temporary morgues," Eldridge said.

There were no fatalities in the Windsor Green fire.

A timeline of the Windsor Green fire in Carolina Forest on March 16: --5:08:38 p.m. -- First call is received. Call taker at county 911 center confused on location and transfers caller to the city of Myrtle Beach dispatch at 5:11 p.m. --5:11:57 p.m. -- Second call is received. Caller reports a brush fire at 213 Wando River Road. --5:13:14 p.m. -- Original caller transferred back to county dispatch. Caller states huge fire by electrical station near Crab Pond Court. --5:13:30 p.m. -- Engine 39 from Carolina Forest station dispatched to brush fire at Wando River Road --5:16:47 p.m. -- Engine 39 arrives on scene. --5:17:04 p.m. -- Additional units added to reported brush fire and en route. --5:20:08 p.m. -- Multiple calls state the fire is close to Windsor Green. --5:20:15 p.m. -- Brush fire upgraded to apartment fire. --5:22:08 p.m. -- Police officer reports multiple units on fire --5:38:42 p.m. -- Three alarm fire called by chief.

Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_bdickerson.

Copyright 2013 - The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)

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