An investigation of a Ponte Vedra Beach condominium fire that burned more than 45 minutes before firefighters acknowledged it includes a review of dispatcher actions, records released by St. Johns County officials indicate.
At least one dispatcher’s name was removed in dozens of places from communication logs that county attorneys released this week in response to a public records request about the fire Monday at the Belleza at Ponte Vedra complex, where 911 calls repeatedly reported smoke.
Some removals were done because of a state law that bans releasing names of agency employees under investigation for misconduct, David Migut, the senior assistant county attorney, said by email.
Two fire employees are on leave while the review unfolds, but a fire spokesman, Jeremy Robshaw, wouldn’t say whether both were dispatchers.
The records released by county attorneys offer some of the first, limited insight into events before dawn that day, when a 20-unit building was ravaged by flames that were first reported just after 4 a.m.
After noting that a fire engine was sent at 4:08 a.m. to the Belleza, west of Florida A1A off Ponte Vedra Lakes Boulevard, the logs showed the call was written off as “unfounded” at 4:15 a.m. and the engine’s run was canceled two seconds later.
But at 6:30 a.m., another entry about the same event was added.
The engine “was not canceled,” it said. “They did not adv[ise] o[n] s[cene], they only adv[ised] nothing found and avail[able].”
Robshaw said the reference to canceling the call was caused by a dispatcher accidentally entering a single keystroke automated to log a cancellation. He said the log was reviewed before a shift change and updated to set the record straight.
Forty-eight minutes after the initial response was scrubbed, the crew of Engine 10, assigned to a Ponte Vedra firehouse two miles from Belleza, had returned and at 5:03 a.m. reported heavy smoke and flames showing at the 20-unit building whose roof would later partially fail as flames consumed home after home.
Fire officials have withheld comment about Monday’s events while a state fire marshal’s investigation of the blaze continues and the administrative review plays out. Robshaw said that review might conclude next week.
He said it was too early to know whether the time between the two responses changed the course of the fire. He said no one knows yet the size of the fire at 4 a.m., or what happened after that first report.
Robshaw noted that the first report of smoke in the area used an address of 700 Boardwalk Drive, while the blaze was actually at 100 Boardwalk.
The records list a parade of other fire crews arriving at the second address by tanker, ladder truck, engines and rescue soon after 5 a.m., as firefighters from South Ponte Vedra, Nocatee, St. Augustine, Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach flowed into the complex.
In the day’s logs, dozens of entries between 4:07 a.m. to 10:14 a.m. have been purged of dispatchers’ names on lines involving subjects ranging from communication with Duval County fire units to contact with the Red Cross.
Robshaw said some redactions might have involved people who were simply witnesses questioned for the investigation.
Information was redacted elsewhere because of a law protecting the identities of people who call 911 and because of patient privacy laws involving medical treatment.
The records don’t explain why firefighters didn’t find and extinguish the fire when a neighbor, Laura Griffin, first called into 911 hours before sunrise to say she smelled smoke while she walked her dog.
911 call: 4:05 a.m.911 call: 4:22 a.m. 911 call: 4:51 a.m. 911 call: 4:53 a.m.