Ambulance got stuck in snow on way to fatal house fire - WNEM TV 5

Ambulance got stuck in snow on way to fatal house fire

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(Source: WNEM) (Source: WNEM)
SAGINAW, MI (WNEM) -

After an ambulance got stuck in the snow, a Saginaw Fire Department Battalion Chief had to drive two victims of a Saginaw house fire to the hospital, where they ultimately passed away.

It happened about 10:20 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12 on the 1700 block of Wood Street.

Fire Chief Chris Van Loo said 41-year-old Melissa Shook was killed in the blaze.

Adair Smithpeters, 71, was also airlifted to an out-of-county hospital. Van Loo announced Wednesday she died from her injuries. 

A 38-year-old man escaped the house fire and two women were rescued by firefighters, Van Loo said.

"I knew things were bad when they pulled everybody out of the house," said Rob Hunter, neighbor. "From when I talked to them they were really nice people and it's a shame. I'm sorry that happened."

Van Loo told TV5 there were no known smoke detectors in the house.

Michigan State Police and the State Fire Marshal’s Office are investigating the cause of the blaze.

Van Loo said that even though the MMR ambulance got stuck in the snow, if it hadn't, it unfortunately wouldn't have changed the outcome for the victims.

House was condemned hours before fire

Michigan State Police Lt. David Kaiser said the house was "unlivable" before the fire.

City officials said the people inside the home were supposed to leave several hours before the fire started.

"The house was condemned. There could be no one staying there and the building could not be occupied after 5 p.m. on Monday the 12th," City Inspector John Stemple said.

Stemple said the home was condemned after an inspector put the tenants on notice to fix a number of issues inside the house. When the inspector returned on Monday, the tenants would not allow him into the home.

Stemple said the inspector could see through an open window the tenants did not address the issues so he condemned the house.

"Mainly it was the conditions inside the dwelling related to sanitation," Stemple said.

Stemple said the tenants told the inspector they would leave the home by the 5 p.m. Monday deadline, but that didn't happen.

Stemple was quick to point out the house did not appear to be a fire danger.

"My inspector did not indicate that there were any circumstances in the house that would've posed an immediate fire hazard. So, I don't know. It's a touch one to call," Stemple said.

Since 2007, the home has been owned by OTB Investment Group, LLC out of Reno, Nevada. That company is owned by Erin and Patrick Elliott. TV5 reached out to the Elliotts, but have not heard back.

Fire station closing to blame?

A delayed response time could be to blame for the tragic outcome. The unfortunate incident comes shortly after a nearby fire station shut its doors for good.

"We're definitely feeling the pressure from the additional cuts. Resources are the lowest they've ever been," said William Buchinger, president of the Saginaw Firefighters Union.

TV5 asked Buchinger if Fire Station 3 was still open if that could have been the difference between life and death for 41-year-old Melissa.

"Having Fire Station number 3 respond and be on scene quicker definitely could've helped have a positive outcome and would've been positive in our operation in this fire," Buchinger said.

Saginaw had four fire stations around the city until station three closed.

Fire Station 3 is the second closest station to the house that caught fire.

"The fire station on Hess would've been the second due fire engine for this fire. The second due fire engine usually initiates rescue," Buchinger said.

The earlier a rescue mission is started, the better.

"Time is of the essence. A fire can double every 30 seconds. So, every minute we're not on the fire doubles in size. The heat builds up and decreases the chances for survival," Buchinger said.

However, neighbors don't think station three would have made a difference in the outcome.

"I couldn't have asked for a better response time," said Ruc Russell.

Russell is the one who called 911 to report the fire.

"The ones here got here just as quick and ya know, I don't think that had anything to do with it," said Bill Ellis, neighbor.

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