CAMDEN COUNTY, Ga. - A former fireman said the situation inside the Camden County Fire Rescue is so dangerous, he quit.
Jeremy Wright said he will never forget the morning of September 14, when firefighters responded to a call for a burning home with a woman and child inside.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. The former Camden County firefighter described how he felt that morning as "helpless."
“They ran out of water, not once, not twice, multiple times," he said
Marica Butler was also there. She watched as her sister and grandson died inside that burning home.
"The hoses were in the ground, on the ground, and I was stepping over the hoses and noticed there was no water coming through those hoses," Butler said.
According to the incident report, the home was in a “non-municipal water area.” The closest water source was at the end of Ben Butler Lane on Liza Rudolph Road, the distance of about a football field.
Call for service records show Engine 11, the first to arrive, used its onboard supply putting “water on the fire for five minutes.” Despite the arrival of a second engine, Wright said the fire was burning out of control for about 30 minutes. Radio transmissions from that night reveal getting a water tanker to the scene was a challenge.
“We do not have Tanker 14 – Tanker 14 is out of service,” said a firefighter over dispatch.
The closest tanker was 11 – it carries 2,000 gallons of water, but was sitting at the first station also out of service. According to a report, Engine 11, which is used as a relay pump, arrived on scene but malfunctioned. The calls for service show almost 40 minutes after the first call, firefighters were still waiting for additional water to arrive.
After 17 years with the Camden County Fire Rescue, Wright resigned, saying in a three-page letter, “I will not allow you to get me killed.”
“Poor decision-making, lack of maintenance, and with having so many new people, it’s a recipe for disaster,” Wright said.
Action News Jax has learned the department has lost 20 first responders since January of last year, that’s 26 percent. Seventy-five percent of them lived south of Jacksonville. When Action News Jax tried to talk to the fire chief, he shut us down, instead referring us to a public relations firm based in Atlanta.
When we asked about Engine 17’s malfunction, a spokesman said, “It was a faulty throttle module, and it has since been replaced.” As for Tanker 11 being out of service, the public relations firm blames complaints by the online group “Firefighters against corruption,” saying, “Tanker 11 was forced out of service for maintenance issues that would not have impacted its ability to respond on Sept. 14.”
But Wright believe if the two tankers had arrived on scene, they may have had at least a fighting chance of saving the woman and child inside.
On Monday, the spokesman told Action News Jax firefighters used 20,000 gallons of water that night and he said Wright has a personal vendetta.
Action News Jax obtained the contract for the public relations firm based out of Atlanta and found it’s costing taxpayers $8,000 a month.
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