CHELSEA — A Mud Mill Road woman left homeless by a fire Friday claims the damage might not have been so severe if dispatchers and firefighters had responded better.

Erin Doyle and her 12-year-old daughter, who rented the home at 50 Mud Mill Road, said confusion among 911 operators and a slow response by firefighters made the fire worse than it had to be.

“It was just so uncalled for, so unprofessional,” Doyle said. “I was just disgusted.”

Chelsea Fire Chief Shawn Ramage, however, said the first firefighter prepared the scene for those who followed him, and he might not have been trained to fight the fire alone.

Nobody was hurt in the blaze, which broke out around 7:45 p.m. Doyle said her sister’s boyfriend, Scott Howard, rescued her animals.

“He’s my hero,” she said. “They would not be here without him.”

Doyle and her daughter, who shared the home with her, are staying with relatives. Doyle, who suffers from a host of medical maladies, including lung problems that resulted from contracting Legionnaire’s disease in 2006, received a oxygen machine from a local pharmacy Friday night. The Red Cross is helping to replace her medication, clothing and other necessities.

Doyle did not have renter’s insurance. The home, owned by Clinton Kinney, of Gardiner, is insured, but that policy does not cover tenant belongings.

“They’re homeless,” said Doyle’s mother, Cathy Doyle. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

The fire damaged parts of both floors in the 1 1/2 story Cape Cod-style home, Ramage said. He said there is moderate damage in the kitchen and the dining room as well as an upstairs bedroom. There is smoke damage throughout the house.

Ramage said flames were showing when firefighters arrived. It took firefighters from Chelsea, Augusta and the veterans’ hospital at Togus about 45 minutes to control the fire.

“There were a lot of voids we had to dig out,” Ramage said.

The fire started in the kitchen, but Ramage said the source is still under investigation. The Office of State Fire Marshal is expected to send an investigator today.

“It’s not suspicious,” Ramage said.

Erin Doyle and her daughter were visiting next door at the home of Jennifer Doyle, Erin Doyle’s sister, when the fire broke out. Howard spotted the fire on the way home and called Jennifer Doyle before going to the house to rescue the animals.

Erin Doyle claims emergency dispatchers initially hung up when Jennifer Doyle called to report the fire. Erin Doyle called back.

“When I got to a real dispatcher, it had been a while,” Erin Doyle said. “I was screaming.”

Meanwhile, Cathy Doyle, who lives about four miles from her daughters’ homes, rushed to the scene and got behind the first Chelsea firetruck. Cathy Doyle said the truck drove slowly — about 40 mph — and at one point made a wrong turn. Cathy Doyle said she arrived at the fire before the first truck did.

Cathy Doyle said when the firetruck arrived, the driver failed to help Howard remove the animals or begin fighting the fire. Cathy and Erin Doyle admitted that they began to yell at him.

“He turned and called police on us,” Cathy Doyle said. She said a Kennebec County sheriff’s deputy responded to the call, but nobody was charged as a result of the incident.

Cathy Doyle praised the effort of Ramage’s subsequent crews, but she wonders about the actions of the first firefighter to arrive.

“If he’s not capable of putting a fire out, he shouldn’t be behind the wheel,” Cathy Doyle said. “He got paid to do nothing. More damage was done to the house because of their lack of doing their job.”

Ramage, however, said initial responders did take action to get ready for subsequent crews. Ramage said he arrived a few minutes after the first truck. The firefighter who arrived first — who was not identified — already had looked into the house to assess the situation and had started stretching hoses off the truck, he said. Ramage said not everyone in his volunteer department is certified to enter a house to fight a fire.

“You have to start somewhere,” Ramage said. “When someone shows up by themselves, you can’t expect them to perform miracles.”

As for Cathy Dole’s claim that the firetruck was moving slowly and made a wrong turn, Ramage said it is a challenge to drive a truck after dark while responding to radio traffic and looking for the location of the incident.

“It’s very difficult with one person on the truck” Ramage said.

The chief said he will investigate Erin Doyle’s complaints about the 911 process. He said it appears the call was handled by the Regional Communications Center in Augusta, which serves as the 911 answering point and dispatcher for the Chelsea Fire Department. Ramage said it would take a few days to gather the information, but he said all conversations are recorded and time-stamped.

Ramage said he plans to talk to the Doyles again in the coming days. He said emotions at the scene were still at full throttle when he arrived at the fire. He said the atmosphere was so charged that it made it difficult to gather even basic information, including whether a person still was inside the house.

“Obviously, when your house in on fire, there’s going to be lots of emotion,” Ramage said. “I asked her to talk to me next week. In the heat of the moment is not the time to be throwing out complaints.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642
[email protected]

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