A Pace man in a wheelchair was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher when he was overcome by smoke and died a few minutes later.
Sheriff's reports say George James Musgrave, 68, was immobile and trapped in a back bedroom by the fire when he dialed 911. As a dispatcher took the call, talking with the man and keeping him on the phone, the line went quiet. Musgrave was found later, unconscious on the floor from apparent smoke inhalation. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to Pace Fire Department Chief Donnie Wadkins, Musgrave and his wife Dorothy became the victims of a fire that started on the stove. While details are still sketchy, he says it is apparent the fire began in the kitchen in their house located at 7501 Pine Meadows Loop, off Chumuckla Hwy. near Willard Norris Rd.
George Musgrave was carried outside by firefighters and could not be revived, sheriff's reports say. Dorothy M. Musgrave, 64, was not breathing when firefighters brought her outside however she did respond to the efforts of rescuers. Wadkins says she was intubated and airlifted by Lifeflight to a burn unit in Mobile, Alabama.
Officials became aware of the blaze after Musgrave reported he was in a wheelchair and trapped by the fire in the back bedroom of his house. Operators at 911 dispatched the call to firefighters, Lifeguard Ambulance, and notified Santa Rosa Sheriff's dispatchers.
Sheriff's dispatchers passed this information on to the patrol deputies in the area, according to Sheriff's reports. Deputy James Wright was the first official to arrive on the scene. Two off-duty Pace firefighters did arrive at the fire in private vehicles, but were unable to enter the home due to lack of equipment.
In his report, Wright says he saw "clouds of thick smoke coming from the eves of the residence" upon his arrival. He told his dispatcher there were no fire or EMS crews on scene yet.
Wright reportedly found two men trying to open the front door and pull an empty wheelchair outside. Two different men were around back of the home with a garden hose, spraying water on the house. He noted in his report, "I saw flames and thick black smoke and it looked as if the ceiling had collapsed onto the floor" when he looked into a window.
After climbing onto an air conditioning unit to look inside high windows at the back of the house, he busted out two windows with a sledgehammer. Wright says he yelled out for anyone inside to answer, but he was met with silence. He was not able to see anyone inside the house.
A second patrol deputy arrived at the fire a minute or two later. Deputy Curtis Metzler and Wright kept trying to determine if anyone was inside. Metzler attempted to stop one "frustrated" bystander from going inside the house to look for the victim, but the man entered the house past him and then came back outside. He was told to leave the property by deputies.
Firefighters from Allentown and Pace arrived a few minutes later and were able to enter the house wearing breathing apparatus Wadkins says. They first brought out George Musgrave, then went back in to search and found Dorothy. Wadkins says there has been no word on the woman's condition since the night of the fire. He said both victims suffered smoke inhalation and George suffered 2nd degree burns to his arms and chest.
"It was really sad," he noted. "We found the phone he was using on the floor."
"There was not a smoke detector in the house."
Wadkins says the house was not furnished with a ramp for the wheelchair, so George Musgrave was literally trapped. The fire chief feels certain a smoke detector might have given them enough time to get help.
"No one has to do without a smoke detector," Wadkins says. "All they have to do is call a fire department close to them. I'll even come out and put it in for them."
He is complementary of the deputies who arrived first, though he is concerned about their safety in their efforts to help the people inside the burning house.
Wadkins also commends the 911 dispatchers who took the fire call and kept track of everyone at the scene.
"They did a great job."