Etna Green Fire Chief Details Response To April 11 Fatal Fire

Etna Green Fire Chief Randall Byrer answered questions and addressed what happened during a fatal fire April 11 for family members of the deceased during a public meeting.

At 11:11 p.m. April 11, a mobile home fire was reported at lot 34 of the Etna Green Mobile Home Park. Once firefighters were able to extinguish the flames and perform an interior search of the residence, they located Arthur J. Peterson, 42, who was deceased.

“I’ve got the actual times. This is all fact. I can’t change none of this here,” Byrer said.

The first 911 call was at 11:09 p.m. Dispatch alerted Etna Green Fire Department at 11:14, Byrer said. “That’s only 3 minutes and a few odd seconds between time of the call and toning us.”

The first engine was on route at 11:20 p.m. It went on scene at 11:21 p.m.

“From the time of call to when the truck left the station, it was 5 minutes, 28 seconds. From the time of the call to when the truck arrived on scene was 7 minutes and 1 second,” he said.

Atwood Fire Department was asked for an assist. Byrer said his fire department is volunteer, along with almost every department within a 20-mile radius of Etna Green. Atwood Fire Department was asked for help. Atwood arrived at the scene at 11:33 p.m., with the time between their first call and arriving on scene being 15 minutes, 46 minutes.

“The first thing is nobody else beat Etna Green there. We were the first ones there,” Byrer said.

Fire Marshal Mike Vogely said the fire department did nothing wrong and its response time was on par with the national average.

Byrer addressed comments on social media. He said three firemen left the station, which is the most that left the station in his memory. They turned the corner and took a large diameter hose to hook up to the hydrant. Two firemen jumped off the fire truck, grabbed the line and the fire engine pulled off. Those two firemen then ran a block to start pulling off hoses to start extinguishing the fire.

Byrer arrived on the scene shortly “after the first hose went off.” Byrer went to hook up the fire truck to a hydrant. He noticed one next to the truck, but said the Etna Green Fire Department, not Atwood, had the wrong fitting to hook up to a large diameter hose.

“It was an oversight on us. I’m gonna admit it. I can make mistakes. I’m human. Anybody on this department is human,” Byrer said.

He noted the fire truck has 1,000 gallons of water in the truck, which will allow for firefighters to fight the fire for 10 minutes before they need more water. When Byrer said he realized his department didn’t have the correct fitting, he instructed his men to hook up to the truck.

Byrer said at the time he was instructing his men on what to do, he jumped on to the pump panel to make sure the pump was charged and the line was running. That line was already pulled and the department was working on hooking “more of a hose” to get to the back of the trailer. Another volunteer came to the scene and was able to take over the pump from Byrer, who then got down and went to the fire scene to instruct his men.

“Did it look like a …, I’m going to use the terms in the Facebook. Did it look like a chicken with a head cut off? To you folks, yes, it did,” Byrer said. To those who were trained, it did not. The fire department was running around because they were told there were potentially two people in the mobile home, noting they were doing their best to combat the fire.

“None of our firemen did anything wrong anywhere that I know of. And if they did do anything wrong, it should be reported to me,” Byrer said.

Byrer admitted a mistake was made with the fitting, but said it was corrected. He noted 90% of the fires Etna Green deals with are out in the country, so they don’t have need to hook up to hydrants that often. Another fitting was borrowed from a neighboring fire department the next morning. Byrer said since then, $1,000 worth of fittings were purchased.

With the 2-1/2-inch hose, it was never an issue of not having any water and not putting out the fire, whether Atwood Fire Department arrived or not, Byrer said.

One woman asked why the hydrants aren’t standardized.

Byrer said they are now. At one point, he said, he believes they were 4-1/2 and 5 inches. Etna Green’s are all 4-1/2. He believes the bigger towns like Warsaw are converting over to storage hydrants.

Hydrants are more than sufficient to supply water to the fire truck and the department doesn’t need a tankard. The reason Byrer said they didn’t take a tankard is because of a lack of manpower.

Byrer explained that when a firefighter opened the door and sprayed the ceiling that was on fire, he went through the floor. When that happens, the firefighters are not allowed to go in because they don’t want to deal with a second fatality.

In a fatal fire, there are certain protocols the fire department has to follow, Byrer said. When the fire department found Peterson, they had to disturb the least amount of debris “or anything as we can.” The sheriff’s office detectives and the state fire marshal has to investigate. The coroner was requested at 12:03 a.m. and the fire marshal was requested at 12:13 a.m. The marshal doesn’t always live in the area, and they have to travel to the scene.

Vogely said the scene is left as it is in a fatal to ensure that evidence is preserved.

Byrer said it may have looked like they were standing their job while waiting for the marshal, but they did their job. Once the marshal investigated, Peterson was removed from the scene. Byrer said no one but firemen saw Peterson when he was removed from the scene. He was not brought out in visible public for everyone to see, noting, “We have a lot more respect than that.”

Byrer also addressed the age limit that people think there is to volunteer for the fire department, noting there is no age limit. He said any help they can get, they’re thankful for.