Baltimore officials investigating why engine was turned away from fire

Baltimore fire officials revised a new dispatching policy Monday amid an investigation into why an engine on the scene of a house fire on Friday was turned away.

The city began looking into the matter after audio of firefighters being ordered to leave the scene circulated on the internet.

According to audio of fire department communications posted on YouTube under the name Mack Flickerson, Engine 31 from Waverly responded to a house fire at 7:17 p.m. on Friday.

The incident involved “reports of a fire on a second-floor kids’ bedroom” with “smoke showing on the second floor,” according to the audio.

Engine 31 happened to be near the scene of the fire, in the 1600 block of Chilton Street in Northeast Baltimore’s Coldstream Homestead Montebello neighborhood, and attempted to help, according to the audio.

“I can see this box,” the officer in charge on the engine says. “I’m going to have a plug in front of the building. Assign me to this fire.”

A dispatcher responds, “Engine 31, that’s a negative.”

Later, the officer tries again, calling a battalion chief.

“We’re down the street from this call,” he says. “We’re in front of a plug. Do you want us on this box?”

“Negative at this time,” comes the response from a battalion chief.

The fire department recently began using GPS technology — called Automatic Vehicle Location — to determine how to dispatch fire apparatus. Previously, engines, ladder trucks and other units responded to fires within their “box,” their geographical area of coverage.

On Monday, the department circulated an updated policy that allows battalion chiefs to authorize an additional unit to respond to fires if it happens to be near a blaze to which another unit is assigned by GPS.

Blair Skinner, a spokeswoman for the fire department, said fire officials were aware of the incident.

“We are looking into this,” she said, adding that the reason the engine was turned away “is currently under investigation."

She did not respond to questions about whether there were injuries during the incident, what damage was done and how long it took for another engine to arrive.

At the site of the fire, no one was home Monday, but the second floor showed noticeable damage, including burn marks by the windows.

The YouTube audio file has been viewed more than 26,000 times.

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