Chief Braun: Brownouts didn't affect response time in fatal fire

First engine on scene in 3:24

CINCINNATI - Cincinnati Fire Chief Richard Braun said Wednesday that fire company brownouts did not slow down the New Year's Day response to a fatal fire in University Heights.

"From everything I've seen, it had no impact," Chief Braun said.

That conclusion was based on a second-by-second review of the timeline of the Digby Avenue fire that claimed the life of University of Cincinnati student Chad Kohls and critically injured Ellen Garner.

Chief Braun said the first engine company arrived on the scene within three minutes and 24 seconds of the call, well within the targeted response time of five minutes. That was Engine 12, housed in Camp Washington.

The second-floor fire, which investigators said was caused by a space heater placed too close to a blanket, was quickly extinguished and the victims rescued from the third floor within nine and a half minutes.

Two ladder trucks that normally are part of the one-alarm complement for University Heights -- one in Corryville and the other in South Fairmount -- were among five vehicles browned out that day.

However, Truck 29 from the West End and Truck 32 from Avondale had just completed a run on McMillan Street in Clifton Heights and were able to quickly respond to Digby Avenue. Clifton-based Engine 34 also responded to the call.

According to Chief Braun, that saved time because had those trucks been at their firehouses, it would have taken an additional minute and a half for firefighters to get dressed and drive to the scene.

Chief Braun said detailed reviews are normally conducted after fires where there is a death and/or injuries. The goal of the reviews is to improve operations.

One thing that will prompt change is the fact that one ladder truck had trouble getting on Digby Avenue because of improperly parked cars. Chief Braun said the driver had to back up and turn several times.

"I'm going to start looking at some smaller apparatus on our trucks to make them more maneuverable and not have a delay on making turns," he said. "We can't run as everything is perfect – everybody's going to park where they should park and things of this nature. So, we'll go ahead and make the changes to compensate for that."

Brownouts of up to five vehicles a day are a fact of life for the department becaues of budget constraints and the fact the department is currently understaffed. The department currently has 758 firefighters, well below the authorized number of 841.

"I compare it to the little boy who is putting his finger in the hole in the dike and no matter where you put your finger another leak comes about," Chief Braun said. "We do the best we can."

When brownouts occur and equipment is out on a run, an emergency in that vacated area means crews have to travel longer distances to provide assistance.

"It hurts with the continuity because I know my first-in district. That's where I'm at. I know these communities. I'm used to it," said Chief Braun. "You're in the community next to me. You're taking care of that. If you're browned out, now I have to worry about two."

A new recruit class of 40 firefighters is due to graduate from the fire academy on March 29 and the chief said that should ease the brownout situation a bit.

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