Dispatched to wrong house

Harford County is paying to repair a Bel Air woman's front door, after a Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company ambulance crew was mistakenly dispatched to her home for a stroke call and broke down the door while she was in the shower. (AEGIS FILE PHOTO, Homestead Publishing / March 5, 2013)

What happens when the fire department beats down your door by accident? One Bel Air woman recently found out.

Harford County government is paying for an emergency operations mistake that resulted in Bel Air firefighters forcing their way into the wrong home Friday.

Merle Kougl, of Jessicas Lane, near the Bel Air Bypass, said she was in the shower at about 10:20 a.m. Friday when she heard a loud crash and felt the house shake.

"I was very disoriented. What do I do?" she recalled, explaining she found someone had broken her front door, knocking it off the frame.

"I thought, oh my God, there's somebody in here," Kougl said, gathering her dogs and locking herself in the bedroom. "I was absolutely terrified."

After finally calling 911 in a panic, the dispatcher told her they knew who the culprit was, she said.

Kougl was still scared to come out of her room, but she eventually called the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company.

Finally, officials told her "they were given the wrong address and there was somebody down the street having a stroke," she said.

Kougl said the fire company was less than understanding, with a captain telling her: "These things happen."

The county's risk management office will pay the cost of fixing her door.

"When the fire department responded, they forced entry to the wrong home," county spokesman Bob Thomas said Monday. "Because the emergency operations dispatched to the wrong address, the county felt responsible for paying for the door and repairs."

Thomas said a risk management investigator was sent out to look at the damage.

"This is a very, very rare situation, unfortunate situation, but we were able to resolve the matter quickly," he said.

Rich Gardiner, spokesman for the Bel Air Volunteer Fire & EMS Association, also said risk management is handling everything and the fire company "did all they could do."

"The BAVFC offered to make payment immediately to help the lady get her door back then be reimbursed by the County, but County Risk Management told them absolutely do not do that," Gardiner said.

He also said the ambulance crew contacted the Harford County Sheriff's Office to let them know what happened and to see if the Sheriff's Office could make an exception to their policy to come out, but they declined.

Gardiner explained law enforcement has a policy of not responding on forced entries by emergency responders.

Kougl said she is less focused on getting her door repaired than she is on that no one immediately told her what was going on.

"[Risk management] were very nice and very helpful once I wound up getting in touch with them," she said, but added that when she talked to the Bel Air fire captain, "he still didn't get it. He said, 'Well, they're going to pay to have your door fixed.'"

"I felt like there should have been something in place to let me know immediately, if not sooner, that there was not a murderer in my basement," Kougl said.