New audio reveals crews knew someone might be inside burning Lakeland home

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Three months after a Lakeland woman died in her burning home, investigators are trying to figure out exactly what lead to her death.

With three different investigations underway, the Polk County fire chief defended his firefighters as reporters pressed him on whether crews knew Lorretta Pickard was trapped inside.

That’s still unclear. An investigative report says firefighters were told there was possible entrapment.

But Wednesday, the Polk County fire chief said crews could not confirm if anyone was in the home, even though Lorretta was still on the phone with 911 after the first two engines arrived.

Newly-released audio of radio transmissions reveals confusion.

Dispatch: At this time, we got a caller advising we have someone trapped inside the structure.

Engine 6/Captain Williams: Engine 6 copy

Fire Captain James Williams confirmed he knew someone might need to be rescued when they got to the burning log home on Rockridge Drive back in November.

About five minutes later he tells a chief no one is inside.

Chief: Do you have entrapment?

Engine 6/Captain Williams: Chief, it’s too far gone for us to even attempt to make access to the structure now.

Chief: I’m not asking you to make access, I’m asking you if anyone on scene has confirmed whether you have entrapment or not.

Engine 6/Captain Williams: No sir, there are no residents on scene at the time.  No cars in the driveway, no residents.

The entire time, Lorretta Pickard was sitting inside waiting for help.

“How are you gonna wait? You see the homes one fire. It’s a wooden home, get her out,” Lorretta Pickard’s niece, Amber Addison said. “He hesitated way too much and it cost her her life.”

Wednesday, the Polk County fire chief backed Williams’ actions, saying crews still made rescue attempts.

“Within that four, five-minute period we had made two attempts at it. In fact, this captain and the firefighter with him got burnt in an effort to make an attempt to get in,” Polk County Fire Rescue Chief Tony Stravino said.

He says the flames were too intense and a downed wire blocked them from getting inside.

Lorretta’s family has doubts about the communication on scene and the effort made to save the 76-year-old.

“We want answers. We want pictures of the wound. We want the jacket to be provided,” Addison said, referring to the firefighters the chief said were burned.

Williams, meanwhile, was suspended with 24-hours without pay for recording a video of the fire and sending it to people on Snapchap.

There’s a chance Lorretta was still alive during part of that video. She didn’t tell the 911 operator she saw flames inside until 19 minutes into the call.

In the wake of the tragedy, FOX 13 News has learned the Polk County Sheriff’s Office is changing its policies for similar calls for help, including being more urgent and encouraging the caller to get out, letting the person know if rescuers are unable to reach them, and having a supervisor monitor the call.

“I’m glad that this change has happened, I’m so thankful that all of this has at least resulted in one thing good,” Addison said.

The state fire marshal, the sheriff’s office, and the fire department are all conducting investigations into this incident.

Once those are complete, the board of county commissioners will decide what the next steps are.