Dispatchers relive night fire tore through Tooele; 911 calls released

Posted at 10:00 PM, Jul 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-23 00:00:36-04

TOOELE, Utah -- Tooele County Dispatchers say Tuesday night was one of the biggest challenges of their career.

The phone rang throughout the night regarding a devastating fire that destroyed 10 homes and damaged eight others. Audio from those calls was recently released.

Dispatch: "911, what's the address of your emergency?"
Caller: "Are the fire trucks coming, the house is on fire?"

Dispatchers received 50 calls like that one.

Caller: "I just got home from work, I pulled into my garage and I got out to move my trash can and the whole field is on fire."

Fortunately, there were five dispatchers on duty Tuesday. On some nights, there are only two dispatchers.

"We had some callers that were wanting their animals out of the house, frantic that their houses were in the line of fire," said Sgt. Heather Prescott of Tooele County.

Some callers were more frantic than others.

Caller: "It's attacking our house right now."
Dispatch: "It's attacking your house right now?"
Caller: "It's [expletive] right there. It’s our car shed on fire."
Dispatch: "Your shed, OK, what is your address?"

Dispatchers say they are trained to handle those frantic moments.

"Our side is to try to calm them down, let them know we have help in route, that police officers, firefighters, are on their way," Prescott said.

Firefighters and police crews were on the way within 60 seconds of the first call.

Chris Howard of the Tooele City Fire Department was among the first responders.

"They always have our back, dispatch is our lifeline in fires like that," Howard said. “Getting firefighters, police, paramedics where it needs to be, they deserve a lot of credit in getting this fire stopped."

Dispatch says the toughest part of the job is not getting caught up in the emotion that's taking place on the other end of the phone.

"It's really tough, I think we put on the dispatcher face as it's occurring, afterward we all talk to each other," Prescott said.

This fire is being investigated as arson, but so far no arrests have been made in the case.

FOX 13 News and Zions Bank have teamed up to raise funds to help the victims affected by the fire. Click here for details.