CEDAR FALLS — A family whose rural home was destroyed in a fire last month is praising the responding public safety officers while others criticized the firefighting effort during Monday’s City Council meeting.
Ken Lockard, whose house at 8024 Slap Tail Trail burned in the Nov. 22 fire, spoke during a special order of business at the beginning of the meeting. He was accompanied by his wife, Amy, and other family members. Lt. John Zolondek and Chris Copp of the Cedar Falls police department, both cross-trained to work as public safety officers with the city’s firefighters, were also in attendance.
“We’re so grateful to be here, and I want to thank the public safety officers for miraculous things,” said Ken Lockard. “I’ve got to tell you, you guys are heroes.”
After the fire was discovered around 9 p.m., a 19-year-old evacuated a younger sibling then tried unsuccessfully to reach his 32-year-old “profoundly handicapped brother,” said Fire Chief John Bostwick. He described the efforts of Zolondek and Copp to the council before Lockard spoke.
Bostwick said Zolondek “encountered heavy heat and smoke” during an attempt to go inside the house, forcing him to retreat. Copp placed a ladder which Zolondek climbed to break out a window and enter the house. He found the man on the floor and got him outside.
Ken Lockard wasn’t home at the time, but arrived shortly after the first PSOs got to the scene.
“I was able to witness the whole thing. These guys ran like a well-oiled machine and they did everything they possibly could,” he said, noting an insurance adjuster who inspected the property after the fire told him as much. “John and Chris, thank you so much.”
Two speakers commenting during the public forum at the end of the meeting raised concerns about procedures as public safety officers, fire fighters and others battled the blaze.
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Linda Hall, a nearby resident of the area, recounted how she asked Bostwick during the fire if they were using the rural hydrant the Beaver Hills neighborhood had raised money for and installed. She believed he said they couldn’t use it.
“We did use it,” Bostwick responded during the meeting. However, he added, “we cannot hook our trucks to it and pump (water) out of it.”
Instead, water from the hydrant was deposited into portable tanks and shuttled to the Lockard property where fire hoses siphoned the water to spray onto the blaze.
He also noted the ladder truck didn’t come to the fire because the 60,000-pound vehicle is too heavy and long to operate in the neighborhood. It’s use would have required water pumping at “500 gallons per minute, at least.” Firefighters had the capacity at the scene to shoot out about 300 gallons of water per minute.
Sharon Regenold, a retired Cedar Falls firefighter captain, raised concerns about the safety of the operation after reading a passage from the report filed by the fire department officer in charge at the scene. She has been a critic of the city’s implementation of the PSO model, which has resulted in those officers replacing some of the city’s firefighters.
“Nowhere in this official document does it say that there was PSOs on the scene that are supposed to be roaming around,” she said. Zolondek “should not have had to go into that building alone.” In addition, she said, the report indicated a sheriff’s deputy was on the roof “helping out without protective gear.”
Jeff Olson, Cedar Falls’ public safety director, noted a police car arrived there before the first fire truck and a second car arrived at the same time as the truck. “You can’t put all those details in a report,” he said. “We had 20 people on the scene before the first call back arrived.”
Referencing another concern about neighbors getting into the house to save some of the family’s belongings, he said that wasn’t a safety concern. “That side of the house had no fire damage at all,” said Olson.