Polk fire chief defends crews at fatal house fire

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The chief of Polk Fire Rescue is defending the decisions made by his crews at a house fire in which a 76-year-old woman died.

“It’s a horrible situation,” said Chief Tony Stravino Wednesday. “But I don’t know what we could have done differently.”

The fire broke out at Loretta Pickard's log cabin, which sat in a wooded area off Rock Ridge Road in North Lakeland.

Pickard was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher for 20 minutes waiting for help to arrive. A dispatcher repeatedly told her that someone would be there to save her.

Crews were there, fighting the fire from outside, but did not enter the house.

However, Polk Fire Rescue Chief Tony Stravino says his people, including the captain in charge of the scene, James Williams, tried.

“Two different crews made an attempt and said it was untenable to get into it. Engine 23, and Engine 6. Two different captains, two crews,” he said.

Stravino says the fire was so hot, Williams and another firefighter 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 Stravino. “They’re telling me…they couldn’t make entry.”

RELATED: Logs, radio traffic recorded no attempts to rescue woman trapped in burning home

Eventually, water ran out. As Williams was waiting for more, he shot a video which he posted on Snapchat and sent to a friend.

Stravino called it “horrible judgment.”

Williams was sanctioned and lost 24 hours of pay as a result.

There are now three investigations into the fire. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is looking into why Pickard died. The fire marshal is trying to figure out the cause of the fire and Polk Fire Rescue wants to know which policies and procedures may have been violated.