Former LVFD firefighters question emergency response to fatal fire
City stands by department's response to fire that killed 31-year-old woman
LEON VALLEY, Texas – Two firefighters who formerly worked with the Leon Valley Fire Department believe emergency responders mishandled their response to the fatal fire on July 5 at the Forest Oaks Apartments, located at 6313 Evers Road.
"We've known it for well over a year now that something like this was going to happen," said one of the firefighters.
KSAT 12 is not revealing the identities of the firefighters at their request because they currently work for other fire departments.
Callers phoning 911 to report the fire told the lone dispatcher on duty that a woman was burned.
Chanelle Williams, 31, later died from her injuries.
The Leon Valley Fire Department did not dispatch its own ambulance to the scene because, according to Chief Luis Valdez, six firefighters on duty were not enough to fully staff an engine, truck and ambulance.
Six firefighters on duty is the standard required by the city of Leon Valley.
"If the officers chose not to bring an ambulance and staff it, they could have called for an ambulance right then and there," said the former LVFD member.
According to radio transmissions, a firefighter requested an ambulance from private EMS service, Acadian.
It took the dispatcher on duty more than nine additional minutes to request the ambulance.
"Nine minutes is forever, especially if you're the victim," said a second former Leon Valley firefighter, who asked not to be identified.
"The line officer or the office in charge that night should have requested an ambulance right then and there knowing that he had a reported victim and that they weren't taking an ambulance," he said.
The National Fire Protection Association has a minimum recommended standard for the number of firefighters who should man an engine and ladder truck.
"On an engine company or ladder company there should be a minimum of four properly equipped and trained firefighters when that vehicle responds," said Ken Willette, division manager at Public Fire Protection, for NFPA.
"If they requested a specific resource from their dispatch center and it was either delayed or did not respond, that needs to be looked into," Willette added.
Chief Valdez was unavailable for an interview Thursday, but said during a lengthy phone conversation that he feels it is unfair for any firefighter who was not on the scene to judge the response.
Leon Valley City Manager Manny Longoria and Valdez say they are examining the city's emergency response, but both leaders stand by the decisions made that night.
The Leon Valley Police Department oversees dispatchers. When asked about the time it took for the dispatcher to radio for an ambulance, Police Chief Randall Wallace said the dispatcher on duty was busy handling chaotic radio traffic during the kind of event Leon Valley does not experience often.
The 911 call for the fire came in around 1:02 a.m.
A spokesperson for Acadian said the company was contacted to assist LVFD at 1:18 a.m. and arrived on scene at 1:33 a.m.
Acadian responded with two ambulances. The first to arrive transported Reyes to San Antonio Military Medical Center, where she later died.
The city of Shavano Park also supplied an ambulance.
Helotes, Castle Hills and Balcones Heights responded with firefighting aid, as well.
Leon Valley has an automatic mutual aid agreement with the city of Balcones Heights which stipulates that Balcones Heights dispatch one engine and two firefighters to fires in Leon Valley.
The aid agreement still requires Leon Valley dispatchers place a call to BHFD for that aid, according to a city of Balcones Heights spokesperson.
Having knowledge of those mutual aid agreements, the two former LVFD members believe the department could have sent its own ambulance to the Forest Oaks Apartments.
Countering that, Valdez said there are times when mutual aid resources are not available because they are being used to respond to incidents within their own cities.
The two former LVFD members also claim Valdez doesn't have enough experience as a line officer on the front lines of fighting a fire to make the appropriate decisions in emergency situations.
Valdez admits his experience as a line officer is not vast, but said his "credentials speak for themselves," citing his numerous qualifications and training.
The city of Leon Valley provided records of Valdez' employment history:
- Lytle Volunteer Fire Department Firefighter/EMT B 1993-1995
- Selma Volunteer Fire Department Firefighter/Driver 1995-1996
- Bulverde Volunteer Fire Department Firefighter/Driver 1995-1996
- Kerrville Fire Department Firefighter/Paramedic 1996-2000
- Balcones Heights Fire Department Firefighter Paramedic 2000-2001
- Hired by Leon Valley Fire Department 10/10/01
- Promoted to Fire Inspector 3/26/04
- Promoted to Fire Chief 8/23/13
Valdez supplied KSAT 12 a list of his certifications and qualifications:
- Bachelor's degree from Texas A&M University
- Associate's degree in Fire Science
- Associate's degree in Fire and Arson Investigation
- Certification as Master Firefighter, Master Inspector, Master Arson Investigator, Master Fire Inspector, Head of Department Suppression and Protection through the Texas Commission on Fire Protection
- Licensed Peace Officer
- Licensed Paramedic
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