Commish disputes family's version of DPS response time

Flames and smoke rising from the fire that destroyed the Te’o & Sons building in Atu’u Friday evening. For many years the building housed Asian owned businesses (a retail store and restaurant ) that catered to the cannery employees of Samoa Packing (now Samoa Tuna Processors) and StarKist. [photo: Jeff Hayner]

The cause of the fire that destroyed the seven-bedroom, two-story residence in Onesosopo Wednesday morning was an electrical fault, says Commissioner of Public Safety William Haleck.

Haleck said he was informed following a meeting last Friday with Fire Chief Cliff O’Brien that the fire started due to an overload of the electrical panel which caused a shortage, and the wires in the panel caught on fire on the second floor.

The Commissioner is also refuting comments made by a family member that they waited for a very long time before the firefighters arrived at the scene. The woman said she called the fire department three times and they said they were on their way, but they waited for a very long time and when the firemen finally arrived, they had to get their equipment up and running, but it was too late.

Haleck said based on the information he received, it took only ten minutes for the fire fighters to get to Onesosopo after they received the call. He also said the family attempted to put the fire out before they contacted 911 requesting the fire bureau's assistance.

“My advice to members of the public, if there is a fire within your home, call 911 immediately — and then you can attempt to put out the fire. But don’t try to put the fire out and when you’re unsuccessful then you contact 911 for help,” Haleck said.

He said in incidents such as this, “people panic and while they wait, it seems like they are waiting forever and yet that is not true. We have a log that indicates that the firefighters arrived at the scene within ten minutes of receiving the call."

The Commissioner added, “When we respond, we do it in a prudent way because we don’t want to cause an accident on the way to an incident, and we consider traffic and everybody else that is on the road. Ten minutes is about the norm from Fagatogo to Onesosopo."

Haleck further refutes claims by family members that the firefighters ran out of water from their vehicle and they had to wait for another fire truck. He said according to information relayed to him, they had contacted another fire truck as a standby, but the first fire truck never ran out of water.

He said they will be working together with the American Samoa Power Authority regarding the issue with the fire hydrants so that water pressure for each hydrant is at the max at all times.

The burned house was occupied by a couple along with their daughter, her husband and their three children. The daughter told Samoa News that their family was renovating the house and they were almost done with the second floor.

The second floor was totally engulfed in flames and destroyed, while the first floor remains standing, but the house is no longer habitable.

The home is located near a daycare center and across the street from the Origin Energy Tank Farm.

More than 30 firefighters responded to the call along with about 20 police officers, who were all at the scene working together to stop the fire from spreading.

Another fire occurred on Friday evening, this time in Atu’u — across from the Samoa Tuna Processors plant (old COS cannery). The fire engulfed the building, burning it to the ground despite efforts by the Fire Bureau. There are no reported fatalities or injuries from the incident.


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