Death of two-year-old child after fire ruled a homicide; alderman questions MFD response time

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MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee police are now calling the death of a two-year-old girl, who died following a suspicious house fire, a homicide. This, as Alderman Bob Donovan questions the Milwaukee Fire Department's response time. Six children were rescued from the burning home -- four of them by their grandmother.

Police on Thursday, October 22nd identified the two-year-old girl who died as Taenajah Morgan.

Taenajah Morgan

Taenajah Morgan

This suspicious fire, and the resulting homicide are under investigation by police. We're told police are seeking a known suspect in this case.

Firefighters responded to a home on 36th Street, just north of Silver Spring around 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday, October 20th. The initial reports indicated several children were trapped inside.

“When I got outside, she was screaming saying the kids, the grandkids were in the house — so I went to the back of the house. I was just trying to get in the house to get the kids out,” Franklin Moore, who lives next door said.

Moore says the heat and smoke were just too much.

When crews arrived on scene, less than five minutes after getting the call (according to MFD), they encountered heavy fire on the first floor. Some went up the interior stairwell, while others deployed the ladder. They were able to locate two children — a two-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy on the second floor.

Fire at 36th and Silver Spring Drive

Fire at 36th and Silver Spring Drive

The children sustained serious injuries and were taken to the hospital for treatment. We’re told they were initially taken to Children’s Hospital, before being transferred to St. Luke’s Hyperbaric Unit and then back to Children’s Hospital.

“They were able to locate two children, bring them down the ladder and rush them off to waiting Milwaukee Fire Paramedic units,” said Deputy Chief Aaron Lipski.

The two-year-old child passed away on Wednesday.

Fire at 36th and Silver Spring Drive

Fire at 36th and Silver Spring Drive

The 52-year-old grandmother and the four children she rescued sustained minor to no injuries as a result of the fire.

“All six children and grandma were on [the] second floor above [the] fire when it started, and grandma was able to get four kids out. She was unable, based on the heavy smoke and the high heat conditions to work her way back and grab those final two children — but she really put it out there to get as many kids out of that house as she could,” said Lipski.

Fire officials say there was evidence of "multiple origins" for this fire on the home's first floor.

"I think honestly, I think it was just somebody mad at somebody," Vernell Mallette said.

Fire at 36th and Silver Spring Drive

Fire at 36th and Silver Spring Drive

Mallette lives two doors down from where the fire happened.

"Whoever you were mad at, you couldn`t be mad at them like that to just set their house on fire where there are kids in there. That`s not right," Mallette said. "These kids, they`re some nice kids. Their grandmother was...I love their grandmother."

Alderman Bob Donovan is claiming a "brownout" caused a two-to-three-minute delay for the Milwaukee Fire Department in responding to this fire. The term "brownout" refers to a cost-saving measure of eliminating a shift of a ladder company or engine company from a fire house that houses more than one company.

Alderman Donovan's full statement is as follows:

There is no way of knowing for sure, but the tragic death of a two-year-old Milwaukee girl who was pulled from a burning house early Tuesday might have been prevented if we’d use a different approach to Fire Department staffing.

The girl and three other children were in a dwelling that became engulfed in fire early Tuesday on N. 36th St. near W. Silver Spring Dr. A brownout of MFD Engine Co. 37 – located very nearby at N. Teutonia and W. Custer – sadly caused a two- to three-minute delay before a crew arrived. The ladder company that was first on the scene did not have water to pour on the fire (ladder rigs are not equipped with a supply of water), and firefighters put their lives on the line getting into the home (to search for people trapped) under very dangerous circumstances.

The term “brownout” refers to eliminating a shift of a ladder company or engine company from a fire house that houses more than one company. The cost-saving practice, I believe, has consequences as seconds count in any structure fire where people – in many cases children – are trapped.

When I asked former Fire Chief William Wentlandt (during a meeting of the Finance and Personnel Committee) about 10 years ago whether brownouts and MFD cuts jeopardized public safety, he said “yes.” His courage and candor on the subject likely cost him his job, as he was not reappointed by the Barrett Administration.

I still believe that we are playing Russian roulette with the safety of our citizens by employing brownouts.

The question for me is simple: Why are we taking risks (with brownouts) with the public safety of our city – risks that we most certainly wouldn’t take with the safety of our own families?"

Milwaukee Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing says he appreciates Donovan's passion for public safety, but disputes his claim. He says the community is not at risk due to brown outs.

As for this fire at 36th and Silver Spring Drive, Chief Rohlfing says the first truck arrived within three minutes and 37 seconds after the call was received.

"We dispatched a full assignment to the structure. What that means is there's three engine companies, three truck companies, a heavy rescue, a paramedic unit, a safety officer and two chiefs. That never changes whether the brownout company is in that first area or not," MFD Deputy Chief Terry Lintonen said.

As of Thursday, the grandmother and 10-year-old boy in this case remained in the hospital.

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