LAKELAND, Fla. (FOX 13) - The Florida Fire Chiefs Association is launching an independent investigation into what happened the night Lorretta Pickard died in her burning Lakeland home.
“I want to restore the faith of the community that we have a quality fire and rescue operation here in Polk County,” said Polk Commission Chair George Lindsey. ”I don’t want this one horrible tragic event to define this department.”
In a written statement released Thursday, Polk County Manager Jim Freeman said, “Recent media reports and public comments concerning the tragic death of Mrs. Pickard in that November house fire have raised many serious concerns and allegations.”
Freeman goes on to say, “Many of the allegations and comments have been based on incomplete information, speculation, and innuendo by individuals who were not on the fire scene and/or have neither the technical expertise nor the fire command to reach their conclusions.”
One aspect of the case that had been left to speculation was whether any firefighters were injured during the response.
In a news conference Wednesday, the Polk County Fire Chief said two firefighters were forced to back off after being burned.
“At the end of the day, we have to go with the people at the scene,” said Chief Tony Stravino. “They’re telling me…they couldn’t make entry.”
FOX 13 News obtained the injury report one of the firefighters, Capt. James Williams filled out after the fire.
He reported that he was burned on the arm through his bunker coat and on the side of the face.
According to the form, the injuries were minor and he did not seek medical attention.
Williams was later suspended without pay for 24 hours for breaking the department's policy on recording videos at active scenes.
The probe by the Florida Fire Chiefs is the fourth investigation into what may have possibly gone wrong. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Fire Marshall’s Office, and Polk County Fire Rescue are already investigating.
When the final document is compiled with information from all the investigations, changes could be made to how cases like this are handled at every level.
Almost immediately after the fire, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, which is responsible for the 911 calls, enhanced one of its protocols. The night of the fire, the dispatcher talking to Pickard only told her to get out of the house twice.
Under the new rules, a dispatcher would have to repeat that suggestion every 30 seconds. A supervisor would be called over to monitor the situation until the person got out or the phone call ended.