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Chief seeks investigation of Tampa firefighters' response to alarm

A red hydrant sits outside Building 7 at Camden Bayside apartments on West Shore Boulevard, but firefighters didn't use it Tuesday at 6:45 p.m. when responding to a fire alarm.

Instead, they left.

An hour later, three apartments were on fire.

Now, Tampa Fire Rescue Chief Aria Green is calling for an investigation.

He wants to know why the captain of Engine 19 didn't check the fire alarm.

"We have to determine if his actions were appropriate or not," Green said Wednesday. "At first blush, I would think that they were not appropriate."

Firefighters are supposed to get out of the truck when checking an alarm. It is believed these firefighters did not.

They are supposed to check out the alarm panel, Green said, and "Try to find out what is causing the system to go into alarm."

They are also supposed to talk to residents and see if they smell smoke.

The officer in charge of Engine 19, whose name is not being released, could face disciplinary action, Green said.

But he might not be totally at fault.

Residents say that when Engine 19 arrived on scene, Camden maintenance worker Joe Hailey told them everything was under control. The firefighters left shortly afterwards, they said.

When reached at Camden's leasing office Wednesday, Hailey declined comment.

Green said he is researching the maintenance worker's involvement, but said Engine 19's personnel still should have checked out the alarm. He said the investigation should be finished by Friday.

The fire likely started with a loud lightning clap around 6:45 p.m. Tuesday.

Carli Segelson, 26, was in her third floor apartment at Camden Bayside, 6301 S West Shore Boulevard, with her friend and next door neighbor, Elizabeth Malm, 24.

Segelson was trying on a suit she bought at Ann Taylor. A studio operator at WTSP Ch. 10, she wants someday to be a reporter and was working on a studio tape.

Then, she became news.

After the loud clap, the lights went off in her bedroom. She flipped a switch in the fuse box "and it was fine, or so we thought," she said.

Instantly, she smelled smoke and sulfur, she said.

Her friend Malm went outside in the rain with an umbrella. "We wanted to know if we should call the fire department," said Malm.

But Engine 19, responding to an automatic fire alarm, was already there.

So were several residents and Hailey, the maintenance worker. He showed the residents a light in the stairwell, which was charred and black, and told Segelson and Malm that the light blew and that's why they smelled smoke.

The women saw Hailey talking to firefighters and then the residents saw the firefighters drive off.

"From what we saw, they never got off the truck," said Malm.

Segelson, who said she still smelled smoke, went back to her apartment. Twenty minutes later, "I heard a crackling sound." She went outside and looked up "and I could see flames going all across."

She knocked on her neighbor's door. "The building's on fire," she said. "We need to get out of here."

Segelson called 911. This time, Engine 15 came out within seven minutes, at 7:40 p.m. "They were awesome," she said. "They helped us out a lot."

Damage is estimated at $200,000, most occurring to Segelson's living room and kitchen and the roof of Building 7. Two lower level apartments had water damage. About half a dozen residents spent the night at a hotel Tuesday.

"It is disturbing that firefighters didn't check out anything the first time," said Segelson, standing among the rubble in her apartment Wednesday. "The whole thing could have been prevented."

Carli Segelson, 26, takes stock of fire damage in her apartment at Camden Bayside in South Tampa. Bob Tucker of Belfor U.S.A. sweeps up. Firefighters' response to could lead to an inquiry.

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