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breaking news

Emergency call boxes reviewed after woman found dead at fire station

Published: Thursday, January 03, 2013 @ 5:35 PM
Updated: Thursday, January 03, 2013 @ 5:35 PM

Fairfield Twp. officials have proposed installing emergency call boxes at the township’s two firehouses after a woman was found dead Dec. 22 outside the Tylersville Road station.

Carla Smith, 39, of Hamilton, apparently went to the fire station seeking help, but got no reply to her knocks on the door. Shawn Denholm, a JournalNews carrier for the past seven years, discovered Smith’s body a few feet from the station’s front door around 5 a.m. while delivering a newspaper there.

“I look and I see a car that’s running and what looked like it was a blanket. But it was this skinny woman who fell down, so I walked up and called 911,” said Denholm, of Hamilton. “She was already dead, so there was nothing I could do.”

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Denholm said he banged on the station door and that it took a few minutes for the firefighters to come outside. He said the 911 operator told him over the phone that there was “no way” the firefighters could have heard him.

“I don’t blame the firefighters, but I just think it’s a shame that she drove there, her car was running and she died out in front of the fire department and just laid there for two hours at least,” Denholm said.

Smith’s autopsy results are pending, a spokeswoman for the Butler County Coroner’s Office said Thursday.

Fire Chief Tim Thomas has proposed that the township put in call boxes outside the township’s two firehouses, and the township administration building, so someone who needs help can get it more quickly.

“Part of the challenge is, there are times when there is nobody at a fire station,” Thomas said.

Therefore, Thomas made a proposal to township administration to make some improvements.

“We’re basically looking at some kind of a device mounted outside of the fire stations and the police station and probably the administration building that says, ‘Push here for emergency,’ and it will connect them to help,” he said.

Township administrator Michael Rahall said it would be best for a system to call 911 rather than the personnel inside.

“If someone calls and they come to the door, and it’s really a police issue, dispatch can let them know what it is. That would be better than just ringing a doorbell and they come and not know what’s going on,” he explained.

Rahall said the building is staffed 24 hours, seven days a week, but fire personnel could be asleep or out on an emergency run

“It was a tragic situation, obviously, but it’s not an emergency room, it’s a firehouse,” he said. “No one heard any banging or anybody being there. She could have been there between midnight and five in the morning for all we know.”

Regardless, Denholm said “you run there (to the firehouse) for a reason. What if it was a kid who was about to be kidnapped? … I would be disturbed if someone had died on my front lawn and I didn’t know about it.”

Curious about what the situation was in Hamilton’s fire department, Denholm checked the station on Shuler Avenue near his home and found there were no call boxes there either.

Hamilton Fire Chief Steve Dawson said there are no communication devices there now, but said a call box would be installed at that location after its scheduled closure in May. There are call boxes at the Hamilton fire headquarters at 77 Pershing Ave., and those dispatch directly to 911, he said.

“There’s no guarantee there’s actually going to be anybody in the station,” he said.

In Middletown, there are no call boxes, but there is a doorbell at each of the city’s fire stations to alert personnel inside, said Middletown Fire Chief Steve Botts.

“If you hit that doorbell at any of our stations, it will create a noise loud enough to be heard throughout the building,” Botts said.

Denholm will be grateful to see some action taken.

“It creeped me out big-time. To pull up and find a dead body, it messed me up,” he said. “I don’t think anybody should have to go that way.”