Answering complaints, top county fire officials told the Crofton Civic Association last night that despite having "problems," there was nothing firefighters could have done to save a home in the community that burned down April 27.
No one was injured in the blaze, which caused $250,000 in damage to a home owned by Thomas and Bernadette Fowler at 1444 Crofton Parkway.
Investigators said it was ignited by a cigarette tossed into mulch in front of the home.
Witnesses had complained earlier about firefighters' handling of the blaze. Some said the firefighters took up to 20 minutes to reach the scene. Others said they should have laid hoses more quickly. Some observers with firefighting experience said the crews attacked the blaze from the wrong direction.
But in a report on the incident released last night, Battalion 4 Commander Joseph B. Ross Jr., whose area includes Crofton, defended firefighters' handling of the fire.
"The firefighters and officers fought the fire to the best of their abilities," Battalion Commander Ross wrote. "I respect the concerns of the community; however, the criticism was unfounded."
The Fire Department's Deputy Chief Nelson Pyle showed the civic association some slides he said were taken by a neighbor before firefighters arrived. They showed the home with flames leaping from much of the roof.
"This house was not savable, under any conditions," he said.
The normal response would have been to work to keep the fire from spreading to other homes. But the first crew at the scene was told that someone might have still been inside the dwelling, Chief Pyle said, so they immediately attacked the flames at the front door to enter the home for a search.
"Under normal circumstances, that crew would never have tackled the inside of the building," he said. "The risk almost cost them dearly."
The Fire Department reached the home within seven to eight minutes of the first call logged at 911, he said, adding, "That's very normal, well within any standards we had set."
"There were problems," the report said. "Problems with the first engine not laying in a supply line. Problems with not laying additional hose lines. Problems with communications between crews, and withdrawing from the structure."
However, Commander Ross wrote, extenuating circumstances led to the problems, and none of the difficulties contributed to the damage caused by the fire. He said the department's concerns about those problems would be addressed through counseling and training of firefighters.
Battalion Chief Gary Sheckells, a Fire Department spokesman, said yesterday afternoon there was some initial confusion at the fire scene, because the first crew responding had been given two different addresses for the blaze.
As a result, the first engine crew to be dispatched decided to locate the correct address before putting out hose lines.