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The View from Dispatch: Oakland PD

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2012-10-07
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Sidebar to Maze Meltdown: The Story of a Unique Fire
by Stephen L. Cutright, Fire Chief, City of Emeryville

Originally Published in our August, 2007 issue.

On, April 29, 2007, while operating the service channel, a unit is advised by a citizen of a possible fire on the freeway.  While the unit made an attempt to ascertain the location, I contacted CHP, who were also receiving calls but with conflicting locations.  Our OPD unit located the fire to be at W Grand/580 EB Freeway.  At the same time Cal-Trans advises that the road is buckling.  In the next 15-20 minutes, I was in charge of contacting several agencies including CHP to assist and coordinate traffic control, Fire and EMS for possible burn victims, as well as advising AMTRAK of possible damage to their yard and/or tracks due to the proximity of the fire.  Due to the rapid pace of events taking place, it was chaotic, but I had the ability to handle the pressure that came with this incident.  I think this is a good example on how different agencies can come together and assist each other in order to achieve one common goal, and that is to maintain public safety.

- Blanca Leggett Communications Dispatcher, Oakland PD

What I remember most was the confusion.  When the units first started giving me information it was of course very general.  The first couple of units I spoke to advised me that they were flagged down by passing citizens that reported smoke or flames.  None of the citizens could provide and accurate locations because they were themselves seeing this from a distance.  A few of the officers in the district started to head in the general direction of the fire but they still couldn't really see anything.  Once they finally reached the Maze, that is when the confusion really started.  With the thick smoke and flames it was hard for them to see exactly what was on fire.  They gave several intersecting points on the freeway because they each had different points of view depending on which side they were on.  In the middle of this, I also had an officer advise me that he spotted a citizen that was on one of the layers of the structure, yelling down to him that he was burnt and needed help.  This added to the chaos because it is very difficult to get an ambulance to someone when you don't have their exact location.  Some of the units actually drove onto the structure to get a better visual and to help block off traffic.  Thankfully one of the sergeants had the foresight to advise the units to move off of the structure itself because it did start to buckle and later collapsed.  It was so hard to relay this information to my co worker Blanca on the service channel so that she could make the proper notifications to Amtrak, CHP, OFD, etc.  She did such a wonderful job and there is no way I could have gotten through it without her support.  I didn't realize how severe the damage was until I got home and turned on the news. 

- Jennifer Childs, Communications Dispatcher, Oakland PD

Many thanks to Irma Grieve, Oakland Police Communications Supervisor, for her assistance in gathering these reports.

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