Fire chief's association turns down Polk County request to investigate fatal fire

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Polk County leaders are vowing to get answers about a fatal November fire.

The Board of County Commissioners said it is committed to finding an independent agency to review exactly happened the night of Nov. 23, when 76-year-old Loretta Pickard died after being trapped inside her burning home. She had been on the phone with 911, but responding firefighters never entered the building to attempt a rescue.

The county requested that the Florida Fire Chief's Association conduct an investigation into the matter, but the association declined the request on Friday.

"We're not just sitting here, we're not just sitting on our hands, we're actually, we're actually taking some action here," said Commission Vice Chair John Hall.

Polk County leaders hope an outside investigation into the blaze will clear up any concerns about the effort made to save Pickard's life.

"We want to find out exactly what happened on that event, on that evening, and then step back and what about the protocol, the hiring practices, the procedures, and policies, and training, and all those things that led up to that event," said Commission Chair George Lindsey.

The Polk County Fire Captain in charge that night, James Williams has been at the center of the internal investigation. Based on the county's timeline, Pickard was likely still alive when Williams recorded and shared a Snapchat video from the scene. 

The elderly woman's family wants to know how Pickard didn't make it out alive even though she was on the phone with 911, and fire crews were at the log house.

Pickard: Oooh, I see fire now.

911 Dispatcher: They're here, they're there, they're there. I'm letting them know exactly what's going on, OK? They are there.

"Their number one goal should have been getting her out, not waiting on things,” Pickard’s niece, Amber Addison, told FOX 13. “How are you gonna wait? You see the home's on fire, it's a wooden home, get her out!"

Dispatch sent numerous transmissions over the computer and radio to fire crews that someone was trapped in the burning house.

911 Dispatcher: Command, we're still on landline. There's somebody inside the structure.

Command: Copy that, ma'am.

911 Dispatcher: Command, it's gonna be an elderly person, she's in the kitchen.

Command: Message received.

After reviewing the 911 call, the Polk County Sheriff's Office changed protocol on how to handle similar calls for help. Operators will now be more repetitive and urgent telling the caller to get out of the fire.

"So what we do now is we say, look, in addition to keeping ‘em calm, if they're telling you the house is on fire, continue to repeat to them, 'You gotta get out, don't wait on the firefighters, you gotta get out, don't wait on the firefighters,'" Sheriff Grady Judd said.

County commissioners told FOX 13 their goal is to have an agency familiar with firefighting standards be the one to do the outside investigation. They want to launch the review as soon as possible and said once that process starts, the agency can have as much time as needed to do a thorough job.