Tuesday, August 24, 1999

Fire death raises questions

Closer station was never called

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MONROE TOWNSHIP — The death of a 35-year-old woman in a home fire this weekend prompted questions Monday about why the Monroe Township fire department didn't request the assistance of a closer station.

.         Monroe Township took 17 minutes to respond to the 4:05 a.m. Sunday fire that killed Teresa Ann Lang in the Holly Town Mobile Home Park on Ohio 125, according to records at the Clermont County Communication Center.

        Clermont County fire investigators said Monday that Ms. Lang died from smoke inhalation and that there was no evidence of nonfire trauma or foul play. Preliminary indications suggest the fire was the result of smoking, the Clermont County sheriff's office said.

        Ms. Lang's home was about 11/4 miles from the private BMOP fire station on Ohio 125. The first Monroe Township fire station to respond was about three miles south on winding Ohio 222.

        BMOP did cover the northern area of Monroe, including Ms. Lang's mobile home park, until December 1993, when Monroe trustees declined to renew the contract. BMOP stands for Batavia, Monroe, Ohio and Pierce townships, and it originally covered portions of each township.

        According to BMOP Fire Chief Paul Tieman, part of the reason for Monroe declining to renew was financial. The old contract was for $30,000 annually to BMOP for fire and life squad service. In its negotiations, BMOP was requesting an increase of about 10 percent, Mr. Tieman said after reviewing files.

        Had the old arrangement still been in effect Sunday, the closer station — BMOP — would have been called first by county dispatch.

        “At 4 a.m., eight minutes,” Mr. Tieman estimated his station's possible response time. “We have several peo ple living pretty close to the building.”

        Nonetheless, ever since the contract was terminated, BMOP is still eligible to respond to a Monroe request for assistance, a common cooperation agreement throughout Clermont.

        But according to Mr. Tieman, it wasn't asked early Sunday.

        Monroe Township fire officials did not return phone calls Monday.

        “We at the time thought the contract was high,” Monroe Trustee Ralph Flynn recalled Monday, saying the savings since then have been significant. “But the main reason was we were assured by both our fire departments that they could handle that end of the township.”

        “This incident seemed like a misunderstanding,” he added.

        Various fire officials in surrounding Clermont communities, including Mr. Tieman, said Monday that Monroe's response time wasn't unreasonable, given that the blaze broke out at a time when neither the Monroe nor BMOP stations were manned. Both department staffs are volunteer at that hour. Communications records indicate the first pumper left the Monroe station at 4:12 a.m. and arrived at 4:22 a.m.

        Mobile homes, because they are smaller and hold heat more readily, often burn more quickly than other homes. Mr. Tieman said there is no reason to assume the nine-minute gap between Monroe's response and BMOP's estimated response-time would have saved Ms. Lang's life.

        At the time Monroe trustees declined to renew the BMOP contract, the township had just opened the Nicholsville-area station that would cover the north part of the township.

        “At the time, we weren't arguing or fighting,” Mr. Tieman said. “A stalemate occurred. The 222 (Nicholsville) station was new at the time. Their decision was fine with us.”

        But since that decision, BMOP cannot legally respond to a Monroe Township fire unless requested to do so.

        Mr. Tieman described the Monroe stations as “pretty self-reliant.” Fire Chief Bob Connell, in neighboring Pierce Township, said Monday his department and Monroe routinely assist each other.


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