PRICHARD, ALA. (WALA)- For two months, FOX10 News Investigates has been digging for answers following a fatal fire in Prichard. It happened on Weisbrod Ave. in the Eight Mile community. A man and his two teenage step daughters died inside their home. They were loved by so many and so many were affected by the tragedy.
Cortlin Harris, a friend of the family said, "It's really devastating. It's a loss, it's a loss."
Esha Allen and two of her daughters made it out of the home alive, but her husband, Mike Allen, and two other daughters did not.
Maynora Smith was a senior at Blount High School, on her way to college with a full scholarship. Her younger sister, Nahriah Hughes was named Miss Sophomore on the homecoming court.
Harris said, "Sometimes I get on my knees and look to the heavens, and ask, why them?"
Since then, FOX10 News Investigates has asked questions trying to figure out how it happened. FOX10 News Investigates finally had a sit down with interim Fire Chief David Hale to get some questions answered.
We've been investigating what some Prichard firefighters call a struggling department. An anonymous source inside the fire department coming to FOX10 News Investigates for help in an interview in October.
The source said, "(It's) very scary. Not only scary for us but for the citizens."
That source first telling FOX10 News Investigates that crews responded to the fatal fire in cars not designed to fight fires and only one small truck while larger trucks sat in the shop or at the station broken down. Interim Fire Chief David Hale confirmed that.
"Fox10 News Investigates asked him, "Do you think the issues of only having the mini pumper and what you operated out of, did that hinder you guys from possibly saving the folks in the house?"
Hale said, "No I don’t. We used the protocol that we would use in that situation. Saraland was there on the scene within six to seven minutes. Which is a great time for the distance they have to travel to get there. The house was fully engulfed before our people even showed up in three minutes so that basically tells me, if someone was killed inside that building, there was a slim chance for us to fight, very slim.”
Prichard's one working fire unit, a mini pumper only holds 300 gallons of water. Chief Hale said his men used the closest fire hydrant.
According to a former fire fighter FOX10 News Investigates contacted, while a mini pumper is able to fight any size fire, it does need a steady water supply from a hydrant to fight larger ones. A source within the Prichard Fire Department said water pressure coming from that hydrant wasn't enough.
Chief Hale would only say the fire hydrant worked in some capacity.
Hale said, “During our investigation of our fire hydrants some months ago, we did inspect the hydrant on Old Citronelle Hwy. which is the closest hydrant to that residence and it was found not to have passed the inspection. I do know that."
Hoping to find out exactly what happened that terrible morning, FOX10 News Investigates filed an open records request with the City of Prichard.
For weeks, our requests were ignored until FOX10 News Investigates called the city out on our newscast for ignoring us.
"I saw on the news that you did not have access to any information and I was unaware of that at the time. So after seeing that segment, I was contacted by the mayors office and we had conversations about you not having that information, that information not being put out, so after going back and looking up the information that we did have, we had to make sure that we were protecting the family, protecting the investigation itself," Hale said.
While Chief Hale explained much of what happened that morning, the city is still withholding 11 pages from that report. They only gave us four. Those pages just detailing that the fire started in the kitchen.
It's still unclear to us the role the fire hydrant played in battling the flames. Court documents from an ongoing lawsuit show the city and water board agree more than 100 fire hydrants in Prichard were not in compliance with code and many of those, don't work.
Prichard Mayor Jimmie Gardner said, “We have an obligation and a duty to see that the citizens are protected, the businesses are protected and Prichard water needs to go out and take care of business in terms of making the corrections on these hydrants.”
Chief Hale said things are getting better within his department with the Mayor and City Council just agreeing to buy two new fire trucks. The city hoping to prevent another tragedy like the one on Weisbrod Ave.
"Words can't describe how much everyone cared for Nariah, how much everyone would miss Nariah, Maynora, and their step father," Harris said.
The State Fire Marshal's office said it has no time frame for its investigation, but we'll continue to ask officials for the complete fire report so we'll know exactly what happened.
In the meantime, court documents show Prichard has agreed to pay the water board to continue inspecting all hydrants in the city to see if they're working.
We'll continue to ask for their findings too.
Also, according to Chief Hale, one of their trucks is out of the shop and in service, so they have two working trucks and in less than 30 days, they'll add the new brand new trucks to their fleet.