An elderly Lake County woman is homeless after fire destroys her home, which is a mile away from a fire station—but Local 6 has learned the first firefighters to arrive came from many miles away.
Officials said since the home was located in unincorporated Lake County on Colley Drive and the Tavares fire station is in the city, on Alfred Road, firefighters from the Tavares fire station were not immediately called in to help. Instead, the first firefighters were sent from a Lake County fire station nearly nine miles away on County Road 44B in Eustis.
Lanett Doyle was on the phone with emergency dispatchers warning that her elderly neighbor could be trapped inside the house.
“So I have 911. I'm like, "where is the police? Where is the police? It's been like 10 minutes. The woman's in there. If the woman's in there she's gone,’” Doyle said.
It was only after that Lake County crew from Station 27 arrived 12 minutes later that the much closer Tavares Fire Department was called in to help.
“It's unacceptable. It's unacceptable,” Doyle said.
Neighbors say the elderly woman was staying at a motel because her house was being treated for insects, but her home is nearly a total loss. Had Tavares Fire Department been contacted immediately they potentially could have arrived seven minutes earlier than the Lake County crew.
“Could more of the house have been saved? Most likely,” said Lake County Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Jack Fillman.
Fillman says that under the current mutual aid agreement, Lake County cannot ask for assistance from neighboring cities until someone arrives on scene to verify there's trouble.
“They don't want to be sending their trucks outside their city limits if it’s not a working fire,” Fillman said.
However, Fillman tells Local 6 that by March or April, Lake County hopes to work out a new agreement with neighboring cities that would allow the closest fire crews to respond regardless of jurisdiction.
“If your house is on fire, you don't care what it says on the truck. You just want a truck to come,” Fillman said.
Until that new agreement is reached, people who live on Colley Drive worry that firefighters will take longer to reach them, despite having a fire station within walking distance.
“That's insane. That is insane. There's no reason for that,” said neighbor Lynn Hobbs.
Many Florida counties, including Orange County, allow the closest fire crew to respond first. The state Fire Marshal is still investigating the cause of the fire but they say it is not suspicious.