Detroit investigates what went wrong during fatal fire in Woodbridge

4114 Commonwealth fatal fire_8734
The fatal fire was at this house at 4114 Commonwealth. Photos by Steve Neavling.

Could Detroit firefighters have saved a 73-year-old man from his burning house in Woodbridge if they were properly alerted to the blaze?

The city is investigating today what went wrong early Saturday morning when firefighters from Engine 1 did not receive an alarm about an occupied house fire in Woodbridge for at least four minutes.

Engine 1 missed a fire call earlier this month because of similar problems with being notified.
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4114 Commonwealth fatal fire_8730Because of the delay, firefighters arrived 12 minutes after being dispatched, even though their downtown firehouse was just 1.6 miles from the blaze at 4114 Commonwealth. At least another two minutes passed between the 911 call and attempted dispatch, so the response time was about 14 minutes – more than twice the city’s average.

The average response time for fires last week was 6 minutes and 25 seconds, according to Mayor Mike Duggan’s office.

“The (long) response to this fire was not the norm,” Duggan spokesman Dan Austin told us.

The fire broke out at 1:20 a.m.

Two occupants were outside of the house when firefighters arrived. The 73-year-old victim, Frank Reese, died in the fire and had burns on 100% of his body. Also injured was 61-year-old Bobbie Rollins.

Austin said the alert system “has triple redundancies built into it.”

“Between the printer, the radio, Bryx cell phone and Centrex hard-line, there were safeguards in place,” Austin said, adding that new alarm systems were installed in all firehouses.

“We are looking into what the problem may have been.”

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

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