Scott Tibbs

Back to opinion page.

City spin and distortions fail to cover up bad policy

The City of Bloomington is continuing to fend off allegations in the wake of the fatal fire at Knightridge Manor. But the Fire Safety Commission sponsored by the Monroe County Taxpayers Association is also continuing its independent investigation, and that investigation is revealing some startling facts.

First, both Board of Public safety President Betsy Walsh and City Attorney Linda Runkle have confirmed that the Board of Public safety is not investigating the Knightridge fire. This while Bloomington Mayor John Fernandez has been saying, both to the Fire Safety Commission and to the local media, that the Board of Public Safety "is the appropriate citizens' oversight commission for the Bloomington Fire Department."

Walsh and Runkle have both admitted that it is city policy for the BPS to forgo an investigation of a questionable fire when litigation is involved. When questioned by the Indiana Daily Student, Runkle denied making this statement. However, Runkle DID make that statement to the author of this article. In addition, Runkle basically confirmed to the IDS that the BPS is not investigating Knightridge, despite the Mayor's claims to the contrary. In the IDS, Runkle said a city investigation would be inappropriate because of the civil suit. "The courtroom becomes the appropriate forum because the plaintiff picked this forum", Runkle told the IDS.

Which leads to the following question: Why did Mayor Fernandez make his statement about the Board of Public Safety being the "appropriate" method to investigate the Bloomington Fire Department? Apparently, either the Mayor is uninformed about city policy or he is being dishonest with the citizens of Bloomington.

Other important facts ignored by the Herald-Times are disturbing revelations about the Knightridge fire and the aftermath of that fire. It was revealed at the first Fire Safety Commission public meeting that the first three fire trucks on the scene at Knightridge could not pump water.

The first truck has been unable to pump water since 1994, yet was put into action by the city as a pumper. The official purpose of this truck was to be a transportation vehicle for firefighters, but was forced into pumping duty while another truck was being repaired. The truck in question was reassigned to high-density areas after Knightridge, putting more lives in danger.

The second truck had a mechanical failure that the city has said was unforeseeable, but testimony revealed that the mechanical failure was known five hours before it was sent to pump water at Knightridge. Finally, the third truck on the scene has the wrong fittings for its hoses, and was unable to hook up to the fire hydrant. The problem with the third truck, like the first, was or should have been known far in advance of the Knightridge disaster.

Overall, it took over thirty minutes to get water on the fire. While city officials have attempted to spin this as establishing a "defensive line" against the fire, firefighters testified that the first thing that must be done when firefighters arrive on the scene of a fire is to put water on the blaze.

The Fire Safety Commission's next public meeting will be Wednesday, July 7, 1999 at 7:00 p.m. at the Monroe County Public Library Auditorium. There, the FSC will present the evidence it has gathered in its investigation of fire department policy and of the actions of the Fire Department at Knightridge.