Frostburg Fatal Fire: Chief Says Response Had Nothing To Do With Deaths

11:08 PM, Dec 28, 2010   |    comments
Photo Courtesy: Cumberland Times
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FROSTBURG, Md. (WUSA) -- Frostburg's Fire Chief Nathan Blubaugh told 9 News Now despite claims that the firefighters' response was slow and ineffective they did everything they could to save Evan Kullberg, and Alyssa Salazar from a fire earlier this month.

In a statement Chief Blubaugh said the first call to 82 E. Main St. came in at 4:21 AM. The first fire units made it on scene at 4:30 a.m.

He said, "Several attempts to enter the rear of the structure were made but due to the intense smoke and flames present it was deemed in-accesable and other options had to be found to gain access to that area."

Chief Blubaugh said the firefighters inability to rescue the victims had nothing to with response times, but had everything to do with the heavy flames and smoke coming out of the building.

In addition he said, "The Frostburg Fire Department is a 100% volunteer organization and the stations are not manned. At the time of the call members responded from their own homes to the fire house and then manned the apparatus and responded to the scene."

Evan Kullberg and Alyssa Salazar died trapped in their apartment early calling desperately to 911 for help. Kullberg and Salazar died from smoke inhalation.

Written by Ken Molestina

From our news director, Fred D'Ambrosi concerning complaints about airing the 911 tapes:

"I'm sorry you were offended by our story about the Frostburg 911 tapes. We had a great deal of discussion in the news department about the tapes, and ultimately, it was my decision to run what we did.

Our goal was to keep the story in the public eye. At the time of the tragedy, we reported on the response time of the fire department, and the safety conditions of the apartment. We were told by the State of Maryland that the response time was adequate for a rural volunteer fire department, and the building was up to code for a pre-1990 structure, and yet, two people are dead. When local officials were unresponsive, we filed a request for the tapes under the Freedom of Information Act.

In my experience, the only way to make people care about a story is to humanize it. That's why we interview the families of crime victims, or talk to the unemployed, or profile the needy. Sometimes viewers accuse us of exploiting these people, but I believe the opposite is true. We need to make it clear that real people are affected by these problems in order to get a response from the government or the public. I also think it's important that concerned viewers hear firsthand how the 911 system handled the call, and what kind of communication was made to the fire crew in the field. This was covered in our 11pm story.

We severely trimmed the portions of the tape we used on the air, and made it a point to warn viewers about the powerful nature of the content. We put the unedited tape on the web site in the belief that web users can make their own decision about whether to listen.

We do not take these decisions lightly. We did our best to contact the families of the victims to hear their perspective or concerns. Numerous people in the news department listened to the tape and expressed their opinions about it. More cuts were made as a result of these discussions.

I don't know if we made all the right decisions. Emails and messages like yours force us to review them, and hopefully, make better ones in the future. Thanks for watching and writing."

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