Horry County officials continue looking at response to Windsor Green fire

bdickerson@thesunnews.comApril 11, 2013 

— As Windsor Green residents reconnected Thursday, Horry County emergency officials continued compiling their after-action reports on how everything transpired on March 16 – the day fire consumed 26 condominium buildings in the Carolina Forest area.

One question that remains unanswered is why the initial call about the fire was transferred to another jurisdiction, leading to a 3-minute delay in the response time to the blaze that ultimately displaced 190 people.

“I’m not sure there is an explanation for that. We wish there was. We wish we could explain it away,” said Toni Bessant, who oversees the Horry County 911 Center.

As part of the office’s after-action report, Bessant said they will see if there are any recommendations to prevent such an error from happening again. That could possibly mean additional training, if officials determine that’s a proper course of action.

“Unfortunately, we’re human beings and we do occasionally make mistakes,” Bessant said. “We just hope they’re not large ones.”

Call times from the county’s 911 center show the first call about the March 16 fire came in at 5:08 p.m., but the person taking the call was confused about the location and transferred the call to the city of Myrtle Beach at 5:11 p.m.

Initial reports given to Horry County Council were that the first call on 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 after that call – just before 5:17 p.m.

Horry County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Leslie Yancey previously said firefighters responded with one engine – a brush truck first because the emergency was initially called in as a brush fire. She added that is standard procedure, and that once the firefighters arrived and saw structures were in danger they called for backup.

This is standard procedure county wide, Yancey said, when a call of a brush fire comes in.

Mark Kruea, Myrtle Beach spokesman added the same standard is in place when a brush fire breaks out within the city limits.

But apparently it is not standard everywhere.

Jason Pope, deputy director for the S.C. State Firefighters Association, said there is no set rule for how many units should respond to a brush fire. He added that paid fire departments such as Myrtle Beach have their own sets of protocols and know just what engines to send where.

More rural and smaller county fire departments send everyone no matter what the call.

“We have a very diverse fire service,” Pope said.

Nothing’s different on the national level when it come to a set standard, said Tom Olshanski, spokesman for the U.S. Fire Administration.

Kris Berg, with the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch, said each local, state and regional department decides how many units to send to an emergency based on what call takers can discern from the information they get from the caller.

“A lot of it comes back to being very careful as you get information from the (person) on site,” she said. “You ask all the right questions. That rates how urgent this call is.”

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

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