MISHAWAKA - Life continues on for the fiancé of 65-year-old Rudy “Skip” Dowling who died in a fire at the home they shared Sunday in Mishawaka at 182 Eastgate Circle.
Becky Ekamp says she and Dowling had been a couple for 13 years, but on Sunday morning she was out at a nearby store at the time the fire broke out. She says she and other family members of Dowling’s are now questioning the response time of crews who were dispatched to the fire scene.
At 11:20 a.m. Sunday when the 911 call came in requesting help for the fire at Dowling’s home, another fire crew was about 100 yards away responding to an unrelated apartment fire on Roosevelt Road. Dowling was confined to a wheelchair and could not walk.
“Now there's a concern that maybe they didn't respond fast enough. I hope it's not true. There is a concern in the family that there was not a fast enough response to get him out,” Ekamp explains.
Mishawaka Fire Chief Dale Freeman disputes that. He says an audio data log recording radio traffic related to the call reveals the following:
11:20 a.m. – 911 call comes in
11:22 a.m. – Dispatchers radio rescuers
11:28 a.m. – First medical unit arrives
11:29 a.m. – First fire truck arrives
11:32 a.m. – Victim is extricated and pronounced dead
Freeman says that the fire crew that was wrapping up on Roosevelt Road at the time still had lines and hoses off the truck and it would have taken longer for them to pack up and get to that location 100 yards away than it would take to send a separate crew to respond.
Freeman says that Mishawaka abides by National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) guidelines when it comes to response times.
Lorraine Carli, a spokeswoman for the NFPA, described her organization’s response time guidelines saying, “The potential is for six minutes from the time they dial 911 that a fire truck is in front of their house.”
In the case of the fire that claimed Dowling’s life, it was eight minutes from the time of the 911 call before the medical unit arrived and nine minutes before the first fire truck arrived.
Dowling’s fiancé says she now lives with regret.
“Do you think I regret leaving that morning? Of course, I regret leaving that morning. I could have saved him,” Ekamp laments.
Ekamp also found a haunting message from Dowling on her voicemail on her cell phone hours after the deadly fire.
“I’m burning he said, I’m burning,” Ekamp recalled.
She said Dowling was a retired truck driver on dialysis and oxygen who she says was a good, kind, generous, patient man.
“They think he dropped a cigarette in the bedroom and the oxygen was on and it sparked a fire, but we don’t know for sure,” Ekamp explained.
Ekamp lost all her possessions in the fire. However, she does have renter’s insurance and is receiving help from the Red Cross.