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Incident Commander Tony Dennis tells task force reviewing Feb. 5 fatal fire that nothing could have prepared him for what happened that early morning on Spotswood Furnace Road
One fireman said he didn't see the victim's bedroom door until he fell into it, because there was no knob.
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By DAN TELVOCK
With about 3 inches of snow on the ground in the early morning of Feb. 5, Chancellor Volunteer Assistant Fire Chief Tony Dennis set up a command post at Riverbend High School for a nearby house fire.
At about 1 a.m., light smoke hung over the trees near the brick two-story Cape Code-style house on Spotswood Furnace Road. From Dennis' vantage point across the street, this appeared to be a routine house fire.
Units with dozens of volunteers arrived within four minutes of the initial report.
However, this wasn't a routine house fire. Early reports came in that possibly three people were trapped inside.
One escaped on her own, and firefighters rescued another.
But Sandy Hill, 43, died in an upstairs bedroom while she was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher. It took firefighters at least 20 minutes before Hill was found facedown on her floor.
Dennis said that nothing could have prepared him for what he encountered, according to notes from his interview with a county task force. The interview is part of a voluminous binder of documents gathered by the Spotsylvania County task force of volunteer and career firefighters probing the incident.
"When a life is lost like that, especially when such an effort was put forth, there is nothing that can prepare people with dealing with that," Dennis said during a short interview with The Free Lance-Star on Thursday, his first with the media since the fatal fire.
Christie Brown escaped and called 911 at 12:54 a.m. Her teenage daughter was rescued at about 1:12 a.m.
When that rescue was made, many volunteers thought their jobs were done.
But Hill was still upstairs.
Dennis was in charge that morning, and his was the third unit to arrive at the scene. He gave out some assignments, but it wasn't much longer before "great confusions" set in, Dennis told the task force.
Fire and Rescue Chief Chris Eudailey launched the internal review of the fire in March, and the task force completed the investigation in May. The following details come from interviews the task force conducted with the volunteers who were at the scene of the fire.
Some units never reported to Dennis for duties. Other volunteers "freelanced" jobs without orders.
TASK FORCE PROPOSALS Some of the major recommendations from the Spotsylvania task force report include:
All members need to follow duty orders and avoid freelancing.
All members need to make sure they have the proper gear with them, including radios, flashlights and search tools. Thermal imagining cameras must be used in all fires.
All members should follow one set of standard operating procedures.
The volunteers need to establish standard qualifications for leadership roles.
The volunteers need to create an organized training program.
The volunteers need to develop enhanced training programs on how to use thermal imaging cameras, search-and-rescue techniques and ventilation techniques.