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Software glitch led to delay in response to fatal Waukesha fire, officials say

Steven Howard
Posted at 2:38 PM, Mar 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-15 12:53:48-04

WAUKESHA, Wis. — Authorities say a glitch with the software that alerts crews to an emergency led to a delay in the response to what turned out to be a fatal fire in Waukesha early Tuesday morning.

In a joint press conference Wednesday, Waukesha Fire and Police department officials explained that the Computer Aided Dispatch system sends both visual and audio alerts to crews in their various stations. But an alert was never sent just after 1 a.m. Tuesday, when 911 callers reported that a house at 1211 Lambeth Road had caught fire.

After the city's Communication Center contacted fire crews manually, it took them 10 minutes and 47 seconds to respond to the fire when it normally would have taken about 5 minutes, officials said. Police meanwhile responded to the fire in 3 minutes 22 seconds.

Two people were forced to jump from the second floor window of the burning building because they were trapped inside.

Fire officials entered the burning building and rescued another two people.

In the end five people were brought to the hospital, most with critical injuries. We learned later on Tuesday that a 50-year-old man died from injuries suffered in the fire.

Officials said Wednesday they cannot go into detail or release information regarding additional deaths until they hear from the medical examiner's office.

"Any delays are not acceptable," Fire Chief Steven Howard said during Wednesday's briefing. Officials promised they are looking into the issue to make sure such a glitch never happens again.

The fire department began using the alert system in 2008, and the chief said to his knowledge no glitches have happened since then, until Tuesday.

Fire officials emphasized that the alert system works and is reliable.

They also remind residents to check their fire alarms to make sure they work, in case of an emergency.

Currently in the hospital are a woman in her 50s with life-threatening injuries, a woman in her 20s with life-threatening injuries, a man in his 20s with non-life threatening injuries and another man in his late 20s with non-life threatening injuries.

Fire officials add that four other residents - two adults and two children - were not hurt in the fire. At this time they do not believe the fire started from "criminal origins."

The department said in an initial statement that crews were called to 1211 Lambeth Road around 1:25 a.m. where they found the first floor of the building being consumed by flames.

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Scene of the fire Tuesday morning.
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Firefighters outside the gutted building.

Two people had to jump from windows on the second floor of the building. First responders further aided two other people who were injured and outside the building.

Firefighters entered the burning building and saved two more residents inside, according to the fire department.

In total five people - three men and two women - were brought to Waukesha Memorial Hospital.

14-year-old Jadien Rivera lived in one of the first floor apartments with his aunt and grandma. He said they were able to escape the fire without injury, but the experience has left them shaken.

"I heard banging on the door, it had me really scared. I just heard someone yell 'there's a fire, there's a fire," Rivera recalled.

He and his family grabbed what they could, including the family cats, and luckily got out. Rivera called the whole night a horrible experience.

Rivera's mom, Crystal Marti, lives not too far away and said she received a call from her sister about the fire at 1:30 a.m.

"Once my sister called me, I knew something was wrong. And immediately you think of the worst when they say fire," Marti said. "They have to start over, they're only left with what was on thier backs."

Marti returned with her son Tuesday afternoon to pick up their belonging that survived in the fire. But, there wasn't much left. A GoFundMe was started for the family to help them get back on their feet, you can find that by clicking here.

"I never thought something like this would happen. A lot of people were hurt and that just really hurts me too," Rivera said.

The fire was under control about 35 minutes after crews were first called, the fire department said.

No firefighters were injured, and no damage estimate or cause of the fire is available at this time, according to WFD.

The Wisconsin State Fire Marshal was notified.

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