Precious seconds – Fire trucks took nearly 7 minutes

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt April 15, 2014
Photo taken by DeKalb County Fire and Rescue of an April 12 house fire in Avondale Estates.

Photo taken by DeKalb County Fire and Rescue of an April 12 house fire in Avondale Estates.

Records released by DeKalb Fire and Rescue show that it took nearly seven minutes – 6 minutes and 47 seconds – for a fire truck to arrive after dispatchers received a call about an Avondale Estates house fire on April 12. That fire claimed the lives of Tami Willadsen, 43, and Jess Willadsen, 10. It also severely burned Jack, 5, who is in a medically induced coma at Grady Hospital.

If the crews from nearby fire station No. 3 had responded, that time would’ve been cut in half, the Fire Department spokesman Capt. Eric Jackson said. Fire station No. 3, which is located less than a mile away from the scene, is empty because it is being rebuilt. The first engine on the scene was from fire station No. 7, Jackson said. At the time of the fire, the relocated fire engine from station No. 3 was on an unrelated call at the county jail, Jackson said.

“If it had it been engine three (leaving from Fire Station No. 3), I’m almost certain it would’ve definitely cut that time in half,” he said.

According to dispatch records, the first call was received at 23:08:50, 11:08 pm, and crews arrived on the scene at 23:15:37, 11:15 pm.

But Jackson cautioned against concluding that if the fire trucks had arrived three minutes earlier it would’ve saved lives. The structure was engulfed in flames when the fire trucks arrived. Jackson said for the fire to have totally engulfed the 5,624 square foot home it would’ve needed a head start on the firefighters.

“You think about how a fire starts which is why the investigation is so important, which is why there’s probably a good reason it hasn’t come out yet, because they’re looking at a number of things,” Jackson said. ” … If you’re winding the time back, somehow this fire started off with a very small flame and a little bit of smoke that caught on to a combustible that kept on catching on fire.”

While the cause is still under investigation, Jackson said the fire department has ruled out the use of an accelerant to deliberately start the blaze.

According to the report, Jack and his father Dave Willadsen were in the grass across the street from the fire when fire crews arrived. Dave Willadsen told the firefighters that his wife and daughter were still inside, but at that point crews couldn’t attempt to enter the structure to rescue the victims, the report says.

“Once the battalion chief got there on scene he immediately called it a defensive fire,” Jackson said. “He advised all units they were going defensive.”

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Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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