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Dispatcher quit job after fire

By Keith Lacey A dispatcher who called emergency services personnel to a deadly house fire 15 months ago, was so upset after what happened she quit her job the next day.
By Keith Lacey

A dispatcher who called emergency services personnel to a deadly house fire 15 months ago, was so upset after what happened she quit her job the next day.

Tammy Boucher, who handled emergency calls and dispatches for Northern Communcations in Sudbury, testified Friday at a coroner?s inquest how she received some 911 calls from neighbours located near a Hanmer house fire around 12:20 pm April 22, 2001.

The inquest is looking into the circumstances of the fire which claimed the lives of Asha-Jade McLean, 3, her brother Ellias McLean, 4, and their great-grandmother Pearl Shaw, 75.

The inquest heard Thursday and Friday how several 911 calls went directly to the communications centre at the Greater Sudbury Police Service where they were supposed to be transferred to the Valley East Fire Department?s central station in Val Therese.

However, somehow several calls ended up being intercepted by Northern Communications, a contractor hired by the city?s emergency services to handle backup calls.

Northern Communications should only have answered the calls after dispatches were sent to the fire hall.

Boucher, who worked at Northern Communications for eight months before that fateful day, said she did find it strange her company had received the 911 calls.

However, her only concern was to contact firefighters and emergency personnel and get them to the fire scene as quickly as possible.

Boucher testified she was proud of how she handled herself in contacting emergency personnel, however, she said she could no longer work in that job after finding out the two children and their great-grandmother had perished in the fire.

?Right after these calls, I quit working there,? said Boucher.

When asked if she quit because of what happened in the fire, Boucher admitted that was the case.

?Yeah,? she said. ?I have a little boy of my own who was the same age?and I just found it very hard to deal with.?

Management at Northern Communications offered to provide counselling so she could keep her job, but she decided she couldn?t work in that field any longer and didn?t accept any counselling, said Boucher.

Ironically, Boucher said in her eight months on the job, the 911 calls she handled that day were the first time she had ever handled calls in relation to a residential house fire.

?I was just thinking about doing my job and getting the fire department there and not about anything else,? she said.
Several audiotapes of the 911 calls and calls between her and emergency staff were played for the inquest jury.

The jury heard Boucher picked up the first 911 call at 12:20 pm. Boucher wrote down the first fire truck pumper arrived at the scene at 12:28.

Boucher could also be heard trying to get Valley East firefighters to the scene by paging them through the station?s radio system at 12:46 pm.

The inquest has already heard two firefighters arrived on the scene, but didn?t have adequate equipment to battle any blaze or get inside the home.

It took several more minutes before an equipped fire truck with manned personnel arrived on the scene and started tackling the blaze.

Several neighbours have testified they believe it took far too long for firefighters to arrive.

Several of those same neighbours tried to get inside the home and many could hear the muted cries of children inside, but they couldn?t make any progress to get close due to wicked heat and thick, black smoke.

Assistant Crown attorney Andrew Slater is expected to call about 20 more witnesses.

The inquest will resume Monday. It is expected to last all of this week and into next week.