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911 Calls Document Horror In Fatal Jersey City Fire, As Crews Go To Wrong Street

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JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Jersey City officials released new 911 calls Wednesday that showed the sheer panic as flames and smoke swept through a home – in a fire that left four people dead.

The fire took the lives of Bishop William Pickett and his wife, Eula Mae – both 81, and their two adult sons – Thomas, 55, and Curtis, 51.

As CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco reported Wednesday, it was a scene of chaos in the early morning hours of Thursday, March 6, at the home at 28 1/2 Grant Ave. in Jersey City. The home was burning out of control, and callers were frantic as they talked to 911 dispatchers to get help.

Caller: “I live at 31 Grant St., and there’s a fire at somebody’s house across the street.”

Dispatcher: “31 Grant Ave.? Is that…”

Caller: “Grant Avenue.”

The initial 911 call went to police. After the dispatcher corrected the caller – the correct street name and suffix was, in fact, Grant Avenue – she transferred the caller to the fire department.

Caller: “Hello?”

Dispatcher: “Fire department.”

Caller: “How you doing? Can you send the fire department to…. (to someone else in the room): Yo Grandma, what’s the address Grandma what’s the address? (To the dispatcher): It’s 28 Grant. We need somebody to come over here now. There’s a fire inside the house.”

Dispatcher: 28 Grand. “Any apartment?”

Caller: “Please, please, please somebody come.”

In the conversation, there was never a clarification of the suffix ”street” or “avenue,” leading to a mixup that resulted in fire crews being sent to Grand Street instead of Grant Avenue.

Other neighbors called 911 as they waited.

Dispatcher: “Is everyone out of the building as far as you know?”

Caller: “It’s an elderly man inside. Please hurry up.”

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said it took firefighters about seven minutes to finally arrive, about double the normal time.

“It’s literally an example of where one second in either direction could have had a different outcome, but everybody along the way followed protocol,” Fulop said.

It was unclear Wednesday whether the delay in response would have made a difference. But Jersey City officials want to make sure it does not happen again, and hope to streamline their 911 dispatchers to one computer system.

Jersey City officials are also looking at the option of changing similar-sounding street names. They said the city has 10 to 15 street names that sound similar.

The cause of the deadly fire appeared to be electrical.


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