Archive for Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Fire destroys rural home

EMS, firefighters at odds over handling of fire scenes

October 13, 2004

When Sam Todd purchased his longtime family home, the last thing he thought was that three months later the house would be destroyed by fire.

But last Thursday, Todd and other family members watched as the white frame house north of Tonganoxie went up in flames.

The investigation into the fire's cause continues. But investigators are focusing on two possible sources: electrical malfunction or lightning.

"Mom got out of the house, and she called me and she goes, 'Sam, the house is on fire. We're all out of the house. You need to come home, but don't drive fast,'" Todd recalled during an interview on Tuesday.

Needless to say, Todd didn't mind his mother as he sped from his job at Lawrence Memorial Hospital to his burning house at 22501 Todd Road, about two miles north of Tonganoxie.

The family -- Sam, his 65-year-old mother and his 32-year-old sister -- currently are trying to pull their lives back together. Todd plans to rebuild on the site. But he knows it will take time.

"Neighbors have been really supportive, and friends and work people," he said. "It's going to take some time to get through this. We've got a heck of a mess to clean up."

Only a few photographs and Sam Todd's silver dollar collection were saved from the flames. A fund has been established at Tonganoxie's First State Bank and Trust to aid the Todd family.

"We're trying to find a residence," Sam Todd said. "But we can't find one in Tonganoxie."

The home had been in the Todd family since 1966. Two additions had been made since, both in the 1970s. The original structure was built and used as the Friendship Valley Depot for a line that ran from Tonganoxie up through McLouth, Todd said.

Three months ago, Sam Todd purchased the home from other family members.

On Thursday, about 20 firefighters from seven fire departments from the southern portion of Leavenworth County battled for hours, in an attempt to save the structure. The fire began about 9:45 a.m. in a one-story part of the house that was used as a living room.

"They did an excellent job," Tonganoxie Township Fire Chief Tom Pulkrabek said of the firefighters. "We tried to contain it, but it got into that roof area and crawled across and started across the wall."

The two-story portion of the home then went up in flames.

While Pulkrabek said he had enough firefighters and sufficient water to battle the blaze, he did run into problems with Leavenworth County Emergency Medical Service -- the second time he's faced the same situation.

Firefighters requested at the Todd fire -- and on Aug. 25 at a house fire south of Tonganoxie -- for EMS to standby in case firefighters needed medical attention.

Both times, EMS officials balked. At the fire south of Tonganoxie, firefighters asked dispatchers to call for help from Douglas County Fire and Medical, and Leavenworth County EMS then provided assistance. And at last week's Todd fire, sheriff's Deputy Gary Huss took control.

"They're going to treat these firemen or I'm going to know why," Huss said.

EMS operations manager Pat Morey was called to the Todd fire scene, where he talked with both Huss and Pulkrabek. Afterward, he wrote the incident off as a "misunderstanding."

"Absolutely, we will treat all patients at the scene if needed," Morey said. "It was just a misunderstanding."

One emergency medical technician, Darlene Carbaugh, said she was told by supervisors not to monitor firefighters.

"This is ridiculous that we can't take care of these guys," Carbaugh said. "I went up and told them if they needed something, I'll get it for them."

Morey said he anticipated that discussions of the issue would occur. And Pulkrabek agreed.

"We've got to get something resolved there," the 58-year-old fire chief said. "We've got to provide some medical coverage for the firefighters on scene. Obviously, we don't have the resources among ourselves to provide that. What we want when we call EMS out there is to basically set up a rehab area.

"It's medical monitoring, and they don't want to do it. Because that ties them to that scene. And then they're not free to run away to do some other emergency run, or non-emergency run, away from the fire scene.

"That's just one more hassle you're facing when you've got everything else going on."

Pulkrabek said the situation is contrary to a spirit of cooperation.

"The irony of all of this is it's a county agency," he said. "That's like the sheriff's department not pulling their weight. It's our county's medical services. They do not want to lose money. If a firefighter did go down, face in the mud, you need immediate attention. It's the heat and the stress and the exertion."

These departments also helped fight the fire: Tongan-oxie city, Alexandria Township, Fairmount Township, Stranger Township, Sherman Township and Reno Township.

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