Questions about Response Raised after 4 Family Pets Killed in House Fire

Updated: 07/08/2014 8:45 AM
Created: 07/07/2014 9:47 PM
By: Beth McDonough

An Oak Grove home burned right down to the foundation, killing several animals living inside.  Now, some people are questioning how it was allowed to happen. One fire department responded but then waited until another department got there to fight the flames. 

The house fire happened at a home on Zion Parkway, which is close to the Oak Grove's border. Oak Grove is just south of St. Francis.

Residents raised questions about how the fire was handled because firefighters in the area are all volunteer; they're paid only when called to a scene. It's part-time, and most of them have day jobs, too.

Lisa Huttner’s grandchildren live next to the home devoured by fast-moving flames.

"If I would have lost my grandson, I would've lost me, because he's my life," Huttner said. It appeared their place would be next. "I was scared to death."

Since Oak Grove and surrounding communities are volunteer fire departments, they operate on an auto-aid policy. That means they help each other out when a call comes in. 

The Oak Grove fire chief was at his full-time job, nearly an hour away in Plymouth, at the time of the fire. Chief Curt Hallermann says many other paid volunteers, from not only his department but several others, did go.

The St. Francis Fire Department is just up the road. As a result, its firefighters got there first. Records show they arrived in 12 minutes. 

For a moment, there were questions about jurisdiction. After several more minutes the Oak Grove crews then arrived. "That matters because in those three to five minutes, the animals could've been saved," Huttner said.

Two dogs, one cat and a guinea pig died. A memorial now stands to honor the four animals who died where they lived.

"By the time units were on scene, the house was very involved. To try to go in and rescue pets was deemed too great of a risk, too dangerous," Hallermann said. Instead he says crews worked to make sure the blaze didn't spread to the Huttner's home or beyond.

At an Oak Grove city council meeting, neighbors sounded the alarm about staffing at local fire departments. KSTP asked if changes are being planned, and Hallerman said it's something they will review.

The National Fire Protection Association says the average response time for rural areas is about 14 minutes. Oak Grove responded in 15. 

In addition to reviewing its policy, Hallerman said Anoka County is getting new technology called CAD, which improves how emergencies are handled.  While the program goes online countywide in November, the fire management system won't be up and running until 2015.

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