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Fire department's response time questioned in fatal fire

Jason Singer • Jun 3, 2010 at 12:59 PM

Six minutes.

According to fire records, that's how long it took for the fire department to arrive after it first received notice of the Jan. 1 blaze at 10 E. Sprucewood Drive.

The department received the alarm at 2:21 a.m., and arrived by 2:27 a.m., the records show.

Nonetheless, by the time they pulled John C. O'Reilly's body from the trailer, it was too late. O'Reilly had died from smoke inhalation.

Now five months later, neighbors and family members question what really occurred that night. Those involved point to a police report, which said the Sandusky Police Department received a call at 2:10 a.m., but didn't dispatch anyone until 2:23 a.m.

The report was signed by the responding officer and approved Jan. 2 by Lt. William McPeek.

Neighbors and family also point to three eyewitnesses who say the timeline provided by authorities doesn't match up with their own recollections.

Bob McCormick, a 22-year veteran of the Sandusky Fire Department and cousin of O'Reilly, said something went wrong.

"Maybe John didn't have to die," he said. "Somebody made a boo-boo, I don't care what they say. There's too much evidence to the contrary."

According to Capt. Paul Sigsworth of the Erie County Sheriff's office, the audiotapes support the fire records.

According to time stamps provided by the county, the first 911 call came in at 2:20 a.m.

Nicole Prontzman, a neighbor, made the phone call after returning to her home that night. The following is a transcript of that call:

Prontzman: "There's a house trailer on fire at 25 Palmer Dive. It's right behind us. I don't know the address."

Dispatcher: "Do you know if anybody is still inside of it?"

Prontzman: I don't know. We just pulled in our driveway.

Dispatcher: K. That's where you live at, but the trailer's behind you?

Prontzman: Right. I think -- what's the road back there, Mike?

(Mike, her husband, says something inaudible).

Dispatcher: Do you see smoke coming from it?

Prontzman: There's flames and everything. Smoke, flames.

At that point, the dispatcher notifies the fire department of the fire.

The time stamp says the dispatcher notified the fire department at 2:21 a.m. Sigsworth said the county bought a synchronization machine last year that ensures all the clocks and time stamps are correct.

Sigsworth also said the 911 dispatch center didn't receive any earlier calls about this specific incident.

So why does the police report say it received a phone call at 2:10 a.m., and yet didn't dispatch anyone for 13 minutes?

Acting police chief Charlie Sams said the 2:10 a.m. time listed on the police report must be a "typographical error" and should be 2:20 a.m. He said it's clear from the 911 audiotape, the dispatcher hadn't received a previous phone call and had no knowledge of the fire.

The number 1 is close to the number 2 on the computer keyboard, he said, and it'd be easy to tap the wrong one.

But those in the vicinity argue the timeline still doesn't jibe with their recollections.

Larry Stookey, who lives on Cleveland Road, said he heard the fire call over the scanner and waited for emergency vehicles to pass by.

Within several minutes, he saw two police cruisers go by with no sirens. Shortly thereafter, he heard police on the scanner say it was a working fire. At least another 12 minutes passed before the first fire truck went by his home, Stookey said.

Prontzman, who made the 911 call, said she checked the time stamp on her phone and thinks she made the 911 call at 2:10 a.m. or 2:12 a.m.

Kristin Gleis, who lived in Bayshore Estates at the time of the fire, said Prontzman showed her the phone, and also thought the call was made sometime before 2:15 a.m.

Acting Sandusky fire chief Paul Ricci said the fire records appear to be accurate. He can't speak for the police department's records.

But Ricci said often when witnessing a tragedy, it can seem like it takes forever for help to arrive.

"I do know from past experiences ... when you call resources, it seems like it takes a lot longer than it actually is, especially if you're the one in need," he said. "Certainly, this isn't the first time I've heard of something like that."

Ricci said often when they play witnesses the audiotapes of what occurred, that jogs their memories as to what actually happened.

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