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Sep 25, 2018

Petillo Family Calls Out Fire Department for Inadequate Firefighting

A candlelight vigil was held on Monday night at the Petillo’s residence in Orange Walk in memory of the four family members who perished on Sunday in an early morning fire. Town residents came out in numbers in support of the Petillo family.  In an attempt to save two of his daughters and stepson, thirty-five-year-old Alfredo Petillo rushed back inside the burning house when he realized that his children were trapped. But his attempt proved fatal for ten-year-old Mia, twelve-year-old Jeda and fourteen-year-old Kevawn Clarke and himself.  The four died together inside the bathroom. Since the fire, condemnations against the National Fire Service and the government have been voiced, especially by the Petillo family. They believe that if properly equipped, the Orange Walk Fire Department and firefighters could have prevented the loss of lives on that Sunday. News Five’s Hipolito Novelo reports.  

 

Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

The tragic fire that claimed four lives on Sunday morning cast a blanket of sorrow and grief over the Orange Walk Community. But for the Petillo family, losing thirty-five-year-old Alfredo Petillo, his children ten-year-old Mia, twelve-year-old Jeda and his stepson fourteen-year-old Kevawn Clarke to the inferno has their emotions intertwined with anger and frustration directed at the National Fire Service.

 

Saturinno Petillo Jr.

Saturinno Petillo Jr., Fire Victim

“My brother ran to the fire station because they were calling and no one answered so he ran to the fire station and ran back. When the firemen came they did not put on their sirens, they came cruising like this is a joking thing. The way they perform was immature, not professional. My brother from upstairs said that he was wetting them and they were gasping for air and they ran out of water.”

 

Zelda Bowen

Zelda Bowen, Common-Law-Wife of Alfredo Petillo 

“Terrible, real terrible. We were calling and calling, no answer. We called the police, no answer. My brother in law jumped from upstairs and jumped in a pickup and went way to the fire station, and wake them up, came back and the fire engine still never reach. When the fire engine reach, not a light, not a serene, nothing. When they came they had less than five minutes of water then they went for another truck, no water.”

 

The Orange Walk Fire Department responded to the fire at eight minutes past five o’clock on that tragic Sunday. Four firefighters responded- three were on the ‘attacking’ truck while one drove the ‘backup’ truck after. They arrived in a couple of minutes and it only took a couple of minutes for the tanks of both trucks to be exhausted. The larger of the two trucks can hold four hundred and fifty gallons of water which is dispensed in just three minutes. After the water was depleted, fire fighters proceeded to fill the tanks at two fire hydrants- one located on Asuncion Street and the other on Corozal Street. But by this time the fire had already destroyed most of the structure. There is a fire hydrant located feets away from the house; however, that hydrant is no longer in use.

 

Saturinno Petillo Sr.

Saturinno Petillo Sr., Father of Alfredo Petillo

“This could have save my son’s life because this does not take five minutes to connect up. You put the pipe, connect the hose and it has a ‘T” that you turn and right away. The fire truck that they have is half a tank of water which is why by son burnt up. They have to fix this because my mentally that I had was a cruel mentally. This would have saved my son’s life.”

 

News Five has learnt that the hydrant was removed over a year ago, reportedly by Belize Water Services.  It was never replaced. We contacted BWS and were told that since a year ago, the company with the assistance of the National fire Service, has been doing a walk through of all fire hydrants across the country. We were told that the specific hydrant was removed because it was no longer functioning.

 

The fire originated in the kitchen, on a top stove which was in the immediate area of the only exit in the house.

 

Ted Smith

Ted Smith, Fire Chief, Nat’l Fire Service

“On receipt of the call which was at five eight from the police, we responded and arrived on the gear. It wouldn’t take long for us to respond and arrive. We would respond within one to two minutes the most. That was the case in this situation.”

 

Reporter

“So you arrived on the scene and the father had already broken down the door to the barber shop?”

 

Ted Smith

“When we arrived on the scene, the structure was already engulfed. The father had already exited and returned to the structure. We did not meet him outside.”

 

Reporter

“He didn’t break the door to the barber shop you said to exit the first time?”

 

Ted Smith

“I said that and I said he had already returned to the structure.”

 

Reporter

“My question now is that you couldn’t access the building from the barber shop’s entry?”

 

Ted Smith

“That’s how he exited the building. But when we arrived the building was already engulfed.”

 

Reporter

“The entire building? So not just their entrance or their exit, it was that one as well?”

 

Ted Smith


“The information we received from our officers is that when we arrived, the building was already engulfed in flames.”

 

This latest incident has caused many persons,  like Orange Walk’s Mayor, Kevin Bernard to call on relevant authorities to equip the National Fire Service with adequate equipment to fight fires.

 

Kevin Bernard

Kevin Bernard, Mayor, Orange Walk Town

“The equipment we have are just not adequate enough to deal with these types of situations. If you look at Orange Walk fire department, they have two trucks yes but the capacity of those trucks are very limited. From what I understand, the heat was pushing. You know it would have taken those trucks to have made almost fifteen trips to be able to quell that fire and to out that fire. So in the spur of the moment, I know everybody may want to attack the poor firemen. They are doing their job, I must say. I am not defending anybody but one hundred and fifty gallons of water in the tank, when that is released it is over. You know, it really makes you upset sometimes because you hear these things over and over, people asking when we will we improve the fire department. Orange Walk has not had a decent fire truck for a long while and this really drives the point home that we are a big district.”

 

Norma Petillo

Norma Petillo, Fire Victim

“I am asking an pleading to whoever needs to get this information, we here in orange walk need better services. The government who needs to set in place things please get it done.

 

Ted Smith

We have limitation. For some reason it is expected that the fire service has unlimited water. We don’t carry the sea, the canal nor the heavens with us when we responded to the structure. It is not being sarcastic, it is being realistic. We don’t carry the heavens, the sea nor the oceans with us when we travel to a fire. We have small trucks that we responded with that have limited capacity. We have a country that has limited hydrants and very poor flow. Until these things are fixed then there will be limited but we did not have problems. We had challenges.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Hipolito Novelo.

 

Aside from assisting the Petillo family with materials, the Ministry of Human Development deployed counselors to the family to help them get through this difficult time. There are several other fundraising initiatives being organized to assist the victims.

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