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DeKalb Firefighters Admit Error In Fatal Dunwoody Blaze

What are you required to do when you respond to a fire or emergency call?
How much of an investigation are you required to do?
Have you ever, after you returned to quarters, thought that you should have spent more time investigating an odor call or sounding alarm?

I responded to a reported automatic alarm transmission. The occupant said that his alarm did not sound. We investigated and found nothing. Not satisfied with the result, I checked several similar addresses in the vicinity. The streets were named Padeget 1, Padeget 2 all the way up to 12 or so. I suspected a mixup with the address. At the third address checked, I found the correct location. The occupant had been cooking and there was no fire, just a little smoke. Apparantly the alarm company had the wrong address for the alarm.

Was I being anal or thorough?

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Obviously you were doing a thorough investigation. You reminded me of a smoke alarm activation we responded to about 4 years ago. It was called in to our dispatch center by the alarm company. It was mid afternoon, a sunny clear day. As we arrived on scene , I noticed a For Sale sign in the yard and as I started a 360 I noticed there were no blinds, shades , or curtains in the windows. I looked into the first window I came to which revealed- no furnishingsin the home. Continuing around the house lookiing in each window there was no sign of smoke or fire nor any audible alarm of any sort. I called for dispatch to recheck the reported location. In the meantime, a next door neighbor came over and identified herself as a keyholder of the residence and that it had been unoccupied for three weeks. She gave us the door key and we carefully made entry. I noticed immediately that there was electrical wire protruding from a h*** in wall and drill holes in various locations surrounding the wire...but there was no alarm panel. With further investigation we discovered there were no smoke detectors or tv cable boxes or telephone connection boxes . Outside, the electric meter had been removed, there was no electric to the house. By then, dispatch reported to us that we had the right location for the alarm that was activated at their dispatch center. It was a twilight zone moment for me as I pondered the possibility of this situation...there was no system, no back-up batteries....Then the neighbor lady told me the prior occupants had moved to a town 50 miles away. Our only conclusion was that they had stolen the alarm system and took it with them and had it installed at the new location (out of state). Our only option was to report our conclusion to dispatch who in turn notified the alarm company dispatch center. Was I being Anal or thorough ? To this day I don't understand how they could steal a system without the alarm company having a red flag of some sort at the control panel and how could the system have activated through a different phone system..or was it poor record keeping at the alarm company ?
Of course you are being anal. Isn't that what makes us who we are? You know your district, you know your addressing, and you know the flaws that come with alarm systems and dispatching. We have to be anal.

Things that could be learned: In general learn your areas, drive them, know when something just isn't right. Know address quirks, and trust your gut to take a little extra time to make sure you have done everything.

Great example for new officers and firefighters in general. You used your anal side to make a thorough well informed investigation and found the issue!


First let me say that being anal retentive in the fire service is not always a good thing.  Having said that, this is one example of where it pays off.  There are too many departments that fail when it comes to finding the definitive answer on calls for service. 


What happened in DeKalb County could have happened anywhere in this country, the fact that they did not even step foot off of the truck is astounding to me.  I was not there and we will probably never know what really happened but I think that we can all agree that we've seen fires that had "nothing showing" as we pulled up and once you got a little closer you realized that it was a working fire.


Unfortunately that will not bring back this woman that lost her life after calling for help.  As others have said on this blog, making sure you cover all of your bases is what we have to do, not just to keep us out of trouble, but because that is what the public expects of us.  I hope that everyone that reads about this story takes away the ideal that we should take the extra time to double check things.


Hats off to you Frank for taking the time to do the right thing!

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