By Linda Kor
A structure fire in Holbrook prompted a number of residents to express concerns regarding the volunteer fire department’s response to the fire. The fire occurred last Thursday afternoon in an abandoned building that was a former laundry in the 2200 block of Navajo Blvd. While the flames left the block building standing, the roof and interior of the building were completely destroyed.
The call went out at 3:26 p.m., and as EMS, police and sheriff’s personnel arrived, residents driving by to see what was happening noted that initially there were no firefighters at the scene.
The dispatch log shows that five minutes after the initial call out was made Engine 14 was en route, but no arrival time was listed. The city’s animal control officer, Merrill Young, heard the call while on duty and after several minutes drove to the scene of the fire. Upon arrival he saw that there was no engine on scene and hurriedly made his way to the fire station. Young, a former volunteer with the fire department, arrived as volunteer Jacob Baker was getting ready to take Engine 14 out and drove with Baker to the scene to man the truck while the firefighter donned his gear.
According to Young, the truck was running low on water, so he immediately approached a Holbrook police officer who was on scene and asked for a ride back to the fire station to get fire engine. By the time Young returned to the structure with Engine 2, it was 3:54 p.m. according to the log, and Engine 14 had run out of water and other firefighters had arrived on scene.
Fortunately, no people were in the building and the Empty Pockets Saloon situated within a few feet of the structure was not damaged as two men with hoses worked to water down the roof of the bar.
Fire Chief Cary Simpson, who was in Show Low at the time of the fire, later said that he couldn’t say for certain, but he believes the problem may have been that the dispatch call to the fire never reached the firefighters. The call went out over the main frequency, but for some reason may not have gone out over the fire dispatch channel. “We have a secondary system called E-Dispatch, which takes the call sent over the fire channel and sends it out over all of the volunteers’ phones so they get it on their phone and radio. The firefighters I spoke to did not get a text and I didn’t either, but I know people heard it on the main frequency,” explained Simpson.
According to Young, the initial firefighter who was at the station had been driving down the road and saw the fire. He did not receive a call over his radio.
“We had a firefighter at the Elks Lodge having a meal and he didn’t know about until his wife called and asked if he was going to the fire,” stated Simpson.
Simpson also said that a dispatch call out early in the day also wasn’t received, but said he is unaware of any other incidents such as this. Following the fire, several successful test calls were made by dispatch, so it remains uncertain as to what took place to prevent firefighters from responding to the call in a timely fashion.
In this incident, a suspect has been arrested. Alan Underwood, 43, a man staying at the Bread of Life Mission, was detained at the time of the fire and his information was taken for contact. He was arrested a short time later for shoplifting, and at that time was also charged with trespassing, criminal damage, reckless burning and possession of a toxic vaporous substance.