Rochester, N.Y. --- Neighbors asked the same questions of each other and local media about the fire that killed 67-year-old Airistine Gibson Sunday morning.
"That's not a regular fire, first of all, you can tell that," Eddie Smith said glancing at the destroyed home. "When you see a fire like that you have to think cocktails, fire bombs, something of that sort."
"I heard the big boom and I seen the girls coming running out in the street," neighbor and family friend Aronda McKnight said. "As they got out in the street, the house was just in blaze, I never seen nothing like that in my life."
"Did somebody set it on fire or was it an accident?" Daphne Bean asked. "That doesn’t look like no accident to me, look at that."
Lt. Ted Kuppinger of the Rochester City Fire Department said the cause of the fire is still under investigation. He added that the home's asphalt siding had a lot to do with the intensity and rapid spread of the fire, as did open windows and doors that fueled the flames.
While the questions from neighbors persist, so too do renewed concerns expressed by the President of the Rochester Firefighters Association IAFF Local 1071. Jim McTiernan refused to answer questions on camera for 13WHAM News on Monday, saying that he would only be repeating what he's been saying for more than four years while the City and Department have instituted a complex restructuring of the agency. McTiernan said he's concerned that manpower and apparatus at the scene was 30% below what it would have been prior to the restructuring--a claim the department disputes.
In 2008 when the restructuring plan was first put into action by then Mayor Robert Duffy and then Fire Chief John Caufield, it was McTiernan who was the first and loudest to say, "Consolidation within the department, job cuts,...are going to impact safety of both firefighters and the public, we feel."
In an April 2011 report on 13WHAM News McTiernan stated that, "You've got some serious operational issues now."
As recently as February 2012 following a fire on Locust Street that also left firefighters injured, McTiernan said, "This is just to put them [the city] on notice and know that they were the ones responsible for this, that we've told them and we're holding them responsible for what is inevitably going to happen."
A photo of an injured firefighter from the Bay Street fire scene was distributed to some local media and slightly cropped by 13WHAM News to hide the identity of the firefighter. It shows swelling burns to the firefighter's ears, forehead, and face.
The department contends that McTiernan's claims are baseless when it comes to this particular fire scene as well as others. Lt. Kuppinger tells 13WHAM News that crews were on scene in 3-minutes and 41-seconds and that as many as 26 personnel were among the first responding. Lt. Kuppinger said that prior to reorganization just 22 personnel would have been among the first groups to respond.
"Our response from the Chief's Office is that we sent actually more personnel to this fire than we would've done before the reorganization," Lt. Kuppinger said. "And there were some heroic efforts by citizens and by firefighters there to mitigate this. It wasn't the outcome, obviously, that we wanted, but the Chief is happy with the response, not the outcome."
McTiernan said that his understanding of the burned firefighter's condition was that he was back at the hospital on Monday for further evaluation and treatment.
Lt. Kuppinger said that one of the other three firefighters sent to the hospital is already back to work. He was unaware of the exact condition of the other two firefighters, including the one photographed, but privacy laws prevent him from sharing information if he did know it.