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Botched Response Revealed In Md. House Fire That Killed 2 Little Girls

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FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — One fire truck went the wrong way and got stuck trying to turn around. Another raced to a wrong address. And an ambulance crew blindly followed first one fire engine and then the other instead of checking directions to a burning house.

The bungled response by two volunteer fire companies didn’t cause the deaths of two little girls who perished in the ferocious blaze Jan. 31 in a rural subdivision near Myersville, but it revealed communication failures that must be addressed, a Frederick County emergency services official says.

“There’s a lot of lessons,” Fire and Rescue Services Division Director Tom Owens told The Frederick News-Post. The newspaper reported Thursday on the agency’s written analysis of the incident.

Madigan Lillard, 3, and her 6-year-old sister Sophie died of smoke inhalation in the blaze. Four other family members received medical care, including 8-year-old Morgan, who spent eight days in a burn unit at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington.

Their house near the base of South Mountain, about 55 miles west of Baltimore, was destroyed in the accidental fire. The blaze began when drapes came in contact with a baseboard heater, investigators found.

County officials said the fire and ambulance crews should have grabbed printed directions to the fire or consulted maps in their vehicles. Owens said his agency is moving some dispatch printers from firehouse offices to locations closer to firefighters in a hurry.

Fire and Rescue Services spokesman Michael Dmuchowski said it’s not clear why the Myersville Volunteer Fire Company fire engine didn’t take the most direct route to the fire, about three miles away. Instead it took an indirect route, missed a turn and got stuck trying turn around. A tow truck was summoned and the engine arrived at the fire on Highland Avenue at 12:25 a.m., 65 minutes after it was dispatched.

The report was more critical of a Middletown Volunteer Fire Department crew that turned onto similarly named Highland Court and laid out a fire hose before realizing the burning house, though visible, was on another street. The error cost them several minutes in getting in position to fight the fire. The report attributed the mistake to “tunnel vision” by the excited crew.  Their leader should have looked at a map, the report said.

The report faulted the ambulance crew, part of the Myersville company, for “blindly” following the Myersville engine and then the Middletown truck instead of relying on their own printed directions. The same ambulance got blocked in at the fire scene and couldn’t transport a patient until several other vehicles were moved, the report said.

Dmuchowski said officials are trying to determine whether any disciplinary action is needed.

Owens said the problems didn’t prevent a rescue of the trapped girls, the only people left inside when firefighters arrived to find the second floor of the burning house almost completely collapsed.

“When you compare it with the pre-arrival photographs, how intense, how rapidly the fire had spread, even before 911 was called, and what the autopsy revealed about the cause of death, when you put all those things together, we do not believe that the outcome would have been any different,” Owens said.

Friends and family members of the victims didn’t immediately return calls Thursday from The Associated Press seeking reactions to the report.

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