Spotsylvania News

Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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Editorial on Fatal Feb. 5 fire

The editorial writers crafted an editorial on the Feb. 5 fire that killed Sandy Hill.

You can read it here. The writer raises some questions that I haven’t yet asked of county officials.

In related news, earlier this week I got a call from a training officer for another combined fire and rescue system in Virginia. The guy asked me if I could send him a copy of the dispatch recording because they wanted to use it for training. He said they have a simulator which basically allows them to play the dispatch tape and have the trainees respond to it as if it were a real call.

“It is not being used to criticize anyone at all,” the man told me. “This can sharpen our skills. It will be all positive.”

I will be sending him the dispatch recordings. It sounds like something positive is already coming from this tragedy.

Later that evening, a Spotsylvania County firefighter, who gave his name but I won’t print it,  left me a rather vicious voice mail, calling me a “piece of trash” for writing the articles about the volunteers and the Feb. 5 fire, and he is “appalled” with the article because “unless you’ve been there, unless you’ve seen what we’ve seen, you have no right to write what you write. Nobody understands what those men went through.”

Some of the message was choppy, so I am not sure what else he may have said.

In a quick response, I can say that he is correct in saying I was not there and I was not involved in the search for Ms. Hill. But I can say with certainty that I fully understand what “those men went through” but in a different way.

For almost three weeks all I did was work on this story. I interviewed more than 20 people and gave several volunteer leaders opportunity to talk to me, but some either couldn’t, didn’t want to, or maybe they plan to later.

I listened to the recordings more times than I could emotionally bear. For the entire time working on the series of articles, I was fully engaged with Hill’s family, friends, some volunteers and Chief Chris Eudailey. Speaking to Hill’s mother was equally as jarring, but I wasn’t risking my life doing it. I was doing my job.

When I was finished, I was emotionally spent.

I was hurting for everyone involved. I personally told Chancellor Volunteer Fire and Rescue Administrative Chief Kevin Dillard that it pained me to write these articles because of the amount of respect I have for volunteers, and firefighters/medics in general.

Each time I listened to the entire 911 call and the recordings, I felt like I was there. I left work at times depressed.

I heard a woman die on the phone.We obviously could not release the entire 911 call because it is too disturbing. But I had to listen to it, over and over and over, to gather details of the incident that came out of that call. I will never forget it.

I heard firefighters screaming for Sandy in the room where her door stood. As the incident came to an end, I was fully aware of the loss and the emotions that come with that loss. I was frustrated and confused.

But when I go back to the original article that was written about this incident and compare it with what I’ve gathered in those three weeks, there is a level of credibility in asking the difficult questions and performing my duties as a journalist.

If that makes me a piece of trash, then I am OK with it.


  • Fredtastic


    I can understand why some who were involved might respond that way – grief and the shock of trauma like this cause people to react differently. As someone who was not involved, I found the article very well written and you clearly did your homework. I personally thought it was fair and that you didn’t intend to take shots at anyone. It was clear that there was alot of confusion and that things could have been done differently. The men and women who were involved have ot live with that and unfortunately its too late to go back and change that. But you did your job to the best of your ability and I thought you did it pretty well. I know several in the Fire and Rescue community and I have great respect for them. They take their job very seriously. Unfortunatley this was one of those situations where something went very wrong.

  • dtelvock

    Just to be clear, if the gentleman who left his name is who he said he is, he wasn’t at the scene either.

  • LarryG

    Used to be – way back when – that someone would come talk to you in person not anonymously and let you know how they felt.

    Now days it seems that old “hit and run” anonymous hate mail is the preferred way.

    I thought Dan has done a good job. In life, stupid things happen sometimes.. and sometimes people die because of it.

    whenever you’ve got a bunch of different people trying to coordinate any kine of disaster scene – there are usually a lot of dropped balls… it’s just the way we humans are sometimes.

    when these things happen..thought .. we need to know what happened.. and yes.. unfortunately sometimes people will get hurt.

    but calling someone up and leaving a message calling them a piece of crap or similar is cowardly and unfortunately getting to be common practice.

    I’m sorry it has but if Dan needs to be told thank you – consider it done Dan. Thank you for all you do and don’t let the naysayers crimp your style.

  • Laura Rutledge

    As a person painfully close to this situation, Dan has done an admiral job of conveying the details surrounding this night that has changed many lives (including mine). In my opinion there is no one to blame here, the process failed, and that is what needs to be reviewed and fixed. I am sure the fire fighters that responded to my friend’s home did not intent do anything wrong, we all need to learn from this and make sure it doesn’t happen again, I am sure in my heart this is what Sandy would want. Life is too short to be ugly to one another.

  • MD

    Mr. Telvock,

    I wanted to thank you personnaly for the time and effort put into these articles that has since opened the investigation and may lead to big changes in how the combined fire and ems system operates. Don’t take threats from volunteer’s to personnel as they may lose the strong hold in the county and oppose any change. Keep up the good work and pass that along to fls staff as well. Have a good day!