Fire destroys home, raises questions about response - WNEM TV 5

Fire destroys home, raises questions about response

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TAWAS CITY, MI (WNEM) -

A fire burned down a home and the homeowners blame it on a decision to call the wrong fire department.

The smell of charred wood lingers at what's left of John Scifert's home.

"Turned on the bedroom light, put my socks and pants on, opened up the bedroom door, and that's when I got hit with the heat and smoke," said Scifert.

A problem with his wood stove heater started the inferno in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

"This is what's left of my Macbook Pro," said Scifert's son Derick Melrose, as he showed his burnt laptop.

Scifert said his family made it out OK. His neighbor called 911, 45 minutes later, fire crews were finally fighting the fire.

The former volunteer firefighter said it felt like an eternity as he waited and watched his house burn and he calls it unacceptable.

"People's lives are at stake in a big fire, and if they don't get the proper protection that they need, then what goods for paying for the protection?" asked Scifert.

The first fire call came in at the Iosco County 911 Center. When that call was made, it brought up a screen for the dispatchers, which tells the dispatchers which fire department to dispatch.  In this case, Tawas City Fire was the department, located about 12 miles away from Scifert's Sherman Township home. The Whittemore Fire Department, which is only five miles away, responded only after Tawas City called for mutual aid.

"It's not unusual to have departments closer, but it's not their coverage area. [Sherman Township has] been with Whittemore for years, and for whatever reason, they switched to Tawas City," said Ryun Ridgway, Iosco County Central Dispatch manager.

According to the Sherman Township supervisor, the decision comes down to money. This spring, the township decided it couldn't afford fire service from the Whittemore Fire Department, so they went to Tawas City. They said they could do it for cheaper.

Scifert questions if the money saved is worth the risk of losing lives.

"If it takes 45 minutes for a fire department to show up, unfortunately, we're going to have a person that won't make it," said Scifert.

Scifert said he's also upset that he and other township residents were never informed about the change in fire departments. But when TV5 spoke with the township supervisor, he said the talks were in the works for a year and were discussed at township meetings.

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