Delay in fire department response leaves toddler locked in car

Fire Chief Tommy Mayville told officers firefighters were on their way, but after several minutes, officers tried to contact him and got no response

By Alicia Adams
Northwest Florida Daily News

NICEVILLE, Fla. — Michelle Barnes thought she was facing a mother's worst fear Wednesday when she realized her 17-month-old daughter was locked in her car.

But the situation escalated when the fire department never showed up to unlock the vehicle.

Barnes and her mother-in-law were leaving a doctor's appointment just before noon when the incident happened. The baby had the car keys and before they noticed, she locked the doors while the women were still outside of the car.

An employee at the doctor's office immediately called the Niceville Police Department at 11:57 a.m.

"The police department was there within a minute," Barnes said. "Then they dispatched the fire department."

According to the call history report, the Niceville Fire Department was on its way by 12:01 p.m. However, that wasn't the case.

"They never showed up," Barnes said. "The police department kept asking me, 'Do you want me to bust the window?' They had to follow protocol, so the chief told them no because the fire department said they were in route."

Fire Chief Tommy Mayville told officers firefighters were on their way, according to the offense report. After several minutes of waiting, they tried to contact Mayville but got no response.

According to Mayville, the delay was due to a fire call the department received at the same time. A unit was dispatched, but by the time it would have arrived, the baby had already been rescued.

At 12:16, a Niceville police officer busted the front passenger window, after noting that the baby was breathing heavily and crying, according to the call history record. EMS arrived at 12:36 p.m., and Harper's vitals were good. Wednesday's mid-day temperature was around 87 degrees with a heat index in the low 90's, according to Weather Underground.

"The officers were absolutely phenomenal," Barnes said, explaining how they even had the glass vacuumed at the car wash across the street.

On Thursday, Barnes went to talk to Mayville, but left unhappy with his answers, which she said she included a criticism of her parenting.

"He said that there was a miscommunication between their station and the other fire station in Niceville," Barnes said. She said she requested the call history records from the fire department but did not receive them.

Barnes said she has since talked to Police Chief David Popwell who told her to contact City Manager Lannie Corbin about the incident. Barnes and Corbin have a meeting set for Monday.

Mayville said his department apologizes for the situation.

"I understand that she's upset, and she has all the right in the world to be upset," Mayville said. "We apologize ... I have no defense."

Mayville denied criticizing her parenting but said he advised Barnes to have an extra key made, the same advice he gives to everyone who accidentally locks their keys in the car.

"It probably wasn't the right time to tell her that, but we unlock cars all the time," he said. "All I can say is I'm sorry and we addressed the issue."

Copyright 2018 Northwest Florida Daily News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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