Varying reports caused confusion in fatal fire response

LONG NECK — Conflicting information provided to first responders created confusion for fire personnel providing response and rescue efforts in the deadly house fire that claimed the lives of three young children Wednesday.

“The original call was for a structure fire. Immediately after that, within seconds, we got another notice that there were two children trapped,” Indian River Volunteer Fire Co. President Patrick Miller said Friday afternoon, in reference to dispatch and radio communication transmissions between Sussex Emergency Operations Center and fire personnel at the scene. “Then you listen a little bit … we are told that all the children are out.”

In the end, he said, four children from several families were in the Pot-Nets Bayside home in Long Neck at the time the fire broke out around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.

“We didn’t know that because we weren’t getting accurate information from the parties involved,” said Mr. Miller. “The mother of one child was present. However, there were children from others present, too.”

A 2-year-old child was removed safely from the burning home by a parent, according to Delaware State Police. That child was taken to the Beebe Medical Center for a medical evaluation and was treated and released Wednesday.

Firefighters ultimately discovered three children deceased in the rear of the house where most of the fire was located.

The organizers of a GoFundMe page launched Thursday identified the deceased children as 4-year-old twins Skylar and Veronica Marchuck and an infant, Amaya Gentner — the twins’ cousin. Delaware State Police as of Friday afternoon had not yet released the names of the deceased.

The state police and state fire marshal’s office are handling the joint investigation; neither agency had released updates as of Friday.
“If you listen to the tape, we were told the children were in the front room in the house. They were not. They were in the back room. No one knew where the children were, either. That is part of the confusion,” said Mr. Miller. “It tells when we were dispatched, there was subjects trapped. There was an amendment later on, saying that all subjects were out. Shortly after that … you hear someone come up yelling, ‘There is children. They are still inside.”

“We did not know the quantity,” Mr. Miller said. “We heard, ‘Two children trapped. We heard one child got out.’ We were thinking that there is one still in there. Well, clearly there was four children involved.”

Mr. Miller said, “When that hose line went in the front door … if you listen to the report it says the children are in the front. They were in the back room where there was heavy fire.”

Initial priority focused fire extinguishing efforts on the propane tanks at the rear of the house on Scarp Street while a second crew was entering the house, Mr. Miller said.

“When we pulled up, they (dispatch communications) also tell you there’s a report of heavy fire from the back and propane tanks. So, we were mitigating that at that back of the house,” Mr. Miller said.

“What happened is one (parent) thought the others had it. We heard neighbors saying, ‘We saw the kids running out. They ran out of the house and down the street,’” said Mr. Miller. “If you listen to the tape, based on information we had to go on, that is what we had. There is confusion as to what was going on as we were doing it.”

Sussex County Emergency Operations Center officials said Friday they would not release the recorded communications during an active investigation.

In a posting on the Indian River Volunteer Fire Co. webpage, Mr. Miller, on behalf of the company and its mutual aid entities, said, “We are completely devastated and distraught by this event that occurred on Wednesday afternoon — Aug. 7, 2019 in the Pot-Nets Bayside development. We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the three children who did not survive the tragic house fire.”

“While everyone is grieving and stunned by the loss of these three precious young children, we are extremely grateful for the devotion and efforts of the emergency first responders, community neighbors and residents who were first to arrive and offer assistance,” Mr. Miller stated. “The emergency first responders were assigned monumental tasks and responsibilities that will be forever etched in their memories and will need assistance and counseling to address their healing and coping mechanisms.”

Mr. Miller noted that for some emergency first responders, the fire brings back “undesirable memories of the past incident history within the Indian River Fire District — where four generations of one family perished — seven children and four adults in January 2001. Some of these emergency-first responders, law enforcement officers and incident investigators were in their early stages of their respective careers and assisted with this unfortunate incident as well. For other emergency-first responders, this current event will be forever etched in their memories and indelibly mark its existence and will not be forgotten. For every emergency-first responder, the loss of any child is always an extremely traumatic and unforgettable incident that severely alters and shapes one’s life moving forward.”

Fire personnel and equipment from Indian River Volunteer Fire Co., Lewes Fire Department and the Millsboro Fire Co. responded to the fire; as did several others, including Georgetown Fire Co. and Dagsboro Volunteer Fire Department.

Community response
Within hours, the Good Ole Boy Foundation had pledged $15,000 to help cover funeral costs and is continuing to accept donations.

The GoFundMe page launched Thursday by Albert Apicella, who identified himself as a friend of the family, had raised $13,673 with a revised goal of $15,000 as of Friday afternoon.

A prayer vigil organized by The Local Ladies of Long Neck was held Thursday evening at the Shoppes of Long Neck shopping center.

Other fundraising efforts were launched by the Paradise Grill in Pot-Nets Bayside and the Tunnell Companies L.P., the organization that operates Pot-Nets.

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