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Fire Officials Provide Investigation Update
A delay in response time due to a mix up in dispatching — the initial call sent Modesto firefighters looking for a fire — helped allow the flames at this home on California Avenue in Oakdale to gain a stronghold. Local fire officials recently updated neighborhood residents on the issue. - photo by RICHARD PALOMA/The Leader
An estimated dozen residents attended an incident review at Oakdale’s Fire Station 1 on Dec. 15 regarding a California Avenue house fire and the delayed response in late October that allowed the fire to gain a stronghold before crews arrived on the scene.
Oakdale Fire Chief Michael Botto said that the delay in the dispatching of the fire department by the Stanislaus Regional 911 Center was the basis for the incident review summary.
Both 911 calls to the Oakdale Police Department were played for the audience. The recordings revealed that at 1 a.m. on Oct. 27, the first call was received and was transferred to Stanislaus Regional 911 for a fire department response to the 200 block of California Avenue in Oakdale. The Stanislaus 911 dispatcher erroneously sent the Modesto Fire Department to the 200 block of California in Modesto.
The mistake initially caused a three-minute delay in dispatching the Oakdale Fire Department; however when the second dispatcher went to notify the fire station via tones, that dispatcher failed to switch to the correct radio channel to properly dispatch the call. Oakdale firefighters received audible tones at their station but did not hear a voice alerting them to the details or location of the fire call. After realizing that error, the dispatcher reset the settings and properly dispatched the call, resulting in another three-minute delay.
Chief Botto claimed that the total six-minute and 14-second delay from the initial 911 call to the final dispatching of fire units did not impact the final outcome of the building where the fire originated — 243 California Ave. — but that the response delay did have an effect in connection with the damage of the adjoining homes at 235 and 255 California Ave.
“It (243 California) was far gone on our arrival,” said Captain Dan Cummins, who was one of the firefighters on the initial response.
Oakdale Fire Captain Kevin Wise, who was on duty at Station 1 the night of the fire, said when a call at night is received the radio broadcast is heard in the station and the lights automatically come on. He said on that night he was awakened by his pager vibrating on a desk and saw the lights of the station and fire bay were on but there were no tones or broadcast over the speaker. Personnel got ready to respond while he contacted Stanislaus 911 dispatchers for the location and details of the call.
Wise said that when the station bay doors were opened he could smell the smoke in the air and see the glow from the structure fire.
A response team consisting of two Oakdale fire engines, an engine from Oakdale Rural Fire District and an engine from Riverbank were sent to the scene.
“Four engine companies is a normal response for a structure fire for any fire department,” said Oakdale Division Chief Rick Fields.
Stanislaus Regional 911 Deputy Director of Operations Darrell Freitas said the mix up occurred because there are two 200 blocks for California Avenue in the county. When the dispatcher brought up her dispatch screen, the Modesto block was the first to show and was automatically dispatched without regard to the city that transferred the 911 call.
“The dispatcher made an assumption,” said Freitas. “It should have been clarified.”
Freitas also said that the caller ID system shows the address of the person calling including the city and in this case was not noticed. He said the dispatcher involved has received discipline but could not expand due to the situation being a personnel issue.
Another snafu to the incident occurred when the responding engine missed a hydrant across from the scene and had to hook up several yards away to a hydrant at the intersection of California and Magnolia. Responding personnel did say the hooking up to the other hydrant may have been a benefit as it kept the area in front of the fire scene free of hoses for other responding vehicles.
While battling the blaze, Oakdale Fire called for additional units from Escalon, Oakdale Rural and Stanislaus Consolidated.
Fields said the focus was to save the houses at 235 and 255 California. An attic fire at 235 California required personnel to pull down the ceiling for access and to extinguish the fire. The residence at 255 California had minor damage and a boat in the driveway was damaged.
Modesto Fire Investigator Ken White said the matter is an ongoing investigation and could not go into details. He said the fire has been classified as arson with an accelerant used on the second floor. He is pursuing leads that have been developed in the case.
By agreement, the Modesto Fire Department has the authority for fire investigations within Stanislaus County.
Since the incident, the involved agencies have met to critique the incident and make modifications to practice and procedure. The agreements range from a protocol on handling transfers and clarification and communication when additional resources are requested.
Fire officials wanted to stress that although a caller after being transferred may have to repeat information to other individuals, that personnel are being dispatched and are en route to the scene.