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Published: Wednesday, 6/17/2009

West Toledo residents seek answers to fire

BY FLORENCE DETHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Herman and Barbie Harrison's home burned down last week and they have a simple question for city officials: Why?

When firefighters arrived at the scene the morning of June 9, the Harrisons said they expected to be back in their home later that day, but there wasn't sufficient water to put out the attic fire.

To sort through what happened that morning, more than 100 people gathered yesterday at a public safety meeting. They expressed outrage and disbelief and wanted to know what could be done to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

Neighborhood residents charged that the firefighters should have been able to put out what Mr. Harrison described as "not a real large fire."

Fire Chief Mike Wolever said firefighters were not able to access sufficient water to put out the fire that began in a wall of the home.

"What we didn't have was capacity," Chief Wolever said. "We didn't have enough water to put out the fire."

He said the four-inch water main that fed the fire hydrant in front of the Harrison home could not provide enough water volume.

Of the more than 1,200 miles of waterlines in the city, only 23 miles are among the smaller, four-inch lines, including those in the Harrisons' historic Westmoreland neighborhood in West Toledo, which date to 1916.

Chief Wolever told residents at the meeting nothing was wrong with the hydrants firefighters used at the Harrisons' home at 1945 Mount Vernon Ave.

The issue, he said, was that the four-inch waterlines did not provide sufficient water and firefighters were up against what had become a very hot attic fire.

By the time firefighters arrived at the house, not only had the flames spread vertically and horizontally throughout the walls of the structure, but they had crept up into the attic, Chief Wolever said.

Because of the intensity of the blaze, firefighters were ordered out of the building when the battalion chief arrived and realized the firefighters would not be able to save the building, Chief Wolever said.

"The answer to all of this is early notification," Chief Wolever said.

Firefighters understand the difficulties that arise when dealing with a four-inch main, the chief said, and by the time help arrived, the fire was at a fairly advanced stage.

Had the fire department been notified earlier, he said, the residence might have been saved.

Neighborhood residents were not convinced.

Despite Chief Wolever's statements, some of the residents at the meeting said they did not believe the home was beyond saving when the firefighters arrived. The city should investigate, they said.

"We believe that our home shouldn't have burned down," Mrs. Harrison said at the beginning of her statement before the committee yesterday. "No matter what you say it was a small fire."

Mrs. Harrison, who had lived with her husband in the Westmoreland residence for 30 years before it burned last week, went on to inquire what the purpose of having a fire department is if it can't put out fires.

She said that "as citizens, taxpayers, and human beings" she and her husband should have received the services for which they had been paying taxes for more than 30 years.

"This is not fair," she said. "This is not acceptable."

Contact Florence Dethy at:

fdethy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6064.



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