Why was there a 24-minute delay between reports of smoke in the MKE courthouse and a response from Sheriff’s Dept?

I’d love to hear Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke’s explanation for the 24-minute gap between reports of smoke billowing from the Milwaukee County Courthouse and his 911 center calling for fire fighters, but apparently Sheriff Clarke isn’t responding to requests for an explanation.

Smoke alarms sounded at the Milwaukee County Courthouse starting shortly after noon July 6, as Milwaukee County sheriff’s officers observed smoke billowing from the building, according to newly released reports.

Unnamed sheriff’s staffers manning the downtown jail’s “master control” center were “notified to contact the Milwaukee Fire Department,” according to the report by Lt. Casey Staat.

What’s less clear from the official account released through an open records request was what accounted for a 24-minute delay in making a 911 call to alert the Fire Department.

Staat’s report says he was notified by a correctional officer about 12:06 p.m. July 6 that she spotted smoke coming from the courthouse. Shortly after that, the power went out, the report says.

Staat’s report doesn’t say when the 911 call was placed, though Fire Department records say the call came at 12:30 p.m. A sheriff’s “log activity system” record puts the time of the call at 12:29 p.m.

I look forward to Sheriff Clarke’s explanation for the nearly half-hour delay before his agency contacted the appropriate first responders to deal with the Courthouse fire.


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5 thoughts on “Why was there a 24-minute delay between reports of smoke in the MKE courthouse and a response from Sheriff’s Dept?

  1. Just take his press release about carrying your own gun because government doesn’t have the resources to protect you and replace “gun” with “hose”.

  2. I would caution against judgment until all the facts are in, but at the outset a 24 minute interval between the report of smoke or the sounding of an alarm and contacting the fire department can’t be justified with any ease. Actually, 24 minutes is pretty extraordinary. I realize 24 minutes might not seem a long time to many, but in the context of emergency response even given the logistics of confirming suspicious activity in a large building, 24 minutes is eons.

    Another concern is the Journal/Abele:

    “Abele wants to apply any lessons learned from the fire to improve safety precautions”
    ‘We are committed to capturing as much learning as we can,’ he said.

    What the hell does that mean? Capture the facts before the public gets wind of them? Is Abele’s effort like regulatory capture – an act ostensibly in the public interest but benefits a specific industry or private sector entity instead? Government contracting alarm bells are ringing.

    And how conducive to “capturing learning” on the part of the Journal is this? Boy, they must have asked a really hardball question to summarize with: “Abele wants to apply any lessons from the fire to improve safety precautions.” How bland and meaningless can they get?

    I don’t know what the standard procedure for county is in terms of emergency response. I would hope that it would align in all respects and in all county facilities with Homeland Security so that it is streamlined and state of the art. In my view all privately owned commercial buildings and all public facilities should be subject to the same standards and procedures. I’ll be curious to learn how responsible and comprehensive a response Abele offers once he’s captured all the learning here.

    Another concern is Lipscomb – this guy heads the County Board committee that reviews safety issues and he doesn’t know what the procedures are?

    Zach, do you know if there are streamlined procedures for all county buildings or if the county follows Homeland Security procedural training for fire, active shooter etc.?

    It might makes sense that the power would be turned off intentionally, but it does suggest a knowledge, or at the very least a suspicion, that the fire was electrical in nature if it was. There were two power outages logged, but from the report it wasn’t clear to me whether those were intentional or not.

    Again, I wouldn’t want to rush to judgment given the complexity involved in adequate emergency response; I hope a genuinely thorough investigation is conducted. My confidence in Abele’s ability to do so isn’t very high. I hope the delay wasn’t a cost-saving measure of any kind. I’m not sure, but I think the city charges the county for false alarm responses. In the kind of Lean Six Sigma environment County has become, delays of this kind would be a natural and inevitable development. I hope this wasn’t the case. In reality, the public may never know if it was.

    Clarke, Abele, and Lipscomb all have quite a bit of answering to do. I hope those answers are to tough, responsible, and genuinely investigative questions.

  3. The downtown fire station is 0.2 miles from the courthouse…an immediate call to 911 would have prevented how much damage? I can’t believe no one called when they see smoke AND have an alarm

  4. Maybe Cowboy Dave couldn’t decide which 10 gallon hat he needed to wear for the press conference. Priorities people!!!

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