Polk fire captain reprimanded for social media post during fatal fire

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A Polk County Fire Rescue captain has been suspended after posting on Snapchat at the scene of a fatal fire.

The fire broke out at the home of 67-year-old Lorretta Pickard last November. Newly-released 911 audio reveals Pickard, who relied on a walker, was told to wait for rescuers, but rescue would never come.

The dispatcher continued to comfort Pickard over the phone until she became unresponsive.

The fire erupted around 7 p.m. November 23, 2018, at Pickard's log cabin off Rockridge Road, several miles away from the nearest fire hydrant.

She was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher for 20 minutes as she waited for rescuers to come in and take her out.

“They know I’m in here, right?” Pickard asked the 911 dispatcher.

“Yes, they know you’re in there. I did let them know,” the dispatcher replied.

Once she heard sirens, Pickard likely thought she would be rescued any minute, but for 12 minutes, she waited.

Everything that goes on at a fire scene is supposed to be in the radio log. On that log, there is no indication that firefighters tried to enter the burning home.

The log from Polk County Fire Rescue begins at 7:06 p.m. Two minutes after the incident log was created, the record shows the incident involves "a single-level structure" and "someone is trapped inside the structure."

Fewer than two minutes later, the log reads "one person is trapped," but also says "no one is reported to be injured."

At 7:10, the dispatcher reports that the person in the home uses a walker and "can't move as quickly [and] her lungs are filling up with smoke."

At 7:14, the dispatcher says the person can see smoke, but not flames. Four minutes later, the dispatcher reiterates, "it is hard for her to get up [without] assistance."

At 7:22, the dispatcher says, "[She] is worried she can't get up while having the phone in her hand... her door is unlocked."

At 7:26, the log reads, "[She] sees fire now. [She] is panicking... screaming." 

In the 911 audio, the woman can be heard gasping for air between screams and deep breaths. 

At 7:28, 18 minutes after Packard first called, the dispatcher says, "[She] is no longer responding."

The log indicates the dispatcher could hear the sound of fire crackling.

The dispatcher continues to speak into the phone, saying "I'm still here with you," and "Ms. Pickard, Can you hear me? Hello?"

"Did you drop the phone? Are you still there?" the dispatcher says 24 minutes into the call.

Meanwhile, outside the log indicates firefighters were working to put out the fire. Lakeland Electric crews arrived at the home. The closest fire hydrant was identified at a location down the street. A brush fire that broke out nearby was contained. 

At 10:26 p.m., the log reads, "Confirmation of one deceased in the residence."

Deputy County Manager Joe Halman, Jr. says firefighters did try to get Pickard out, but the flames were too intense. He said the log doesn't tell the whole story about what happens at a scene.

“When you are trying to save someone, you don’t necessarily say everything you need to say on the radio,” Halman told FOX 13.

Eventually, firefighters ran out of water. As they waited for more to arrive, Capt. James Williams, the man in charge, posted a picture from the scene on Snapchat.

“They couldn’t go in at that point,” Halman responded when asked about the timing of the post.

Pickard eventually succumbed to the flames and smoke.

Williams was reprimanded. He was suspended for 24 hours, essentially losing three days of pay.

A previous version stated Lakeland Fire Rescue responded to the fire. It has been corrected.