Miller officially identified as Tryon fire victim

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, September 9, 2015

After two weeks of waiting for autopsy results of a fire victim, Tryon officials got word this week the victim was 32-year-old Trey Miller, as suspected.

The town received Miller’s death certificate this week, which states the cause of death is pending final autopsy results.

The Bulletin sat down with Tryon Fire Chief Joey Davis, Tryon Police Chief Jeff Arrowood and Tryon Assistant Fire Chief Tank Waters on Tuesday, Sept. 8 to get details of the town’s response, preliminary results from the autopsy and N.C. State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) information regarding the cause of the fire.

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Final autopsy results are still pending to determine the exact cause of death. The fire occurred at 950 East Howard Street around 3 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, where one occupant escaped, but Miller was found deceased inside the home.

Arrowood said the fire appears to be accidental in nature, according to the SBI investigation. The area of origin was in the kitchen, according to preliminary SBI reports.

“At this point there appears to be nothing suspicious about (Miller’s) death,” Arrowood said.

The response:

In response to accusations from the public, including that the fire department did not bring a tanker truck, that a fire hydrant near the home did not work and that no one attempted to save Miller from the home, Tryon officials say none of those accusations are true.

There were a total of three calls made to 911 regarding the fire. Davis said according to Polk County dispatch records, two calls were made at 3:03 a.m. and a third call was made at 3:12 a.m.

At 3:06 a.m., the county dispatched fire departments from Tryon, Columbus and Saluda and the Polk County EMS, saying there was a reported structure fire with a subject still inside the residence on the 900 block of East Howard Street.

The county then dispatched Tryon police officers, alerting them that a fire was reported and a subject was still inside, according to Davis. Sgt. Manny Zaragoza and patrol officer Alan Corn with the Tryon Police Department were the first on scene. Columbus police officer Nicholas Stott was also in the area and responded as well.

Sgt. Zaragoza arrived on scene at 3:10 a.m., according to Davis, and attempted to make entry but there was too much heat from the fire and without equipment he was unable to enter the structure.

Officer Stott arrived at 3:11 a.m., according to Davis, and a minute or so later, the county dispatch called officers with Stott responding that the house was fully involved with fire at 3:13 a.m.

At 3:13:48, Tryon’s Engine 3 pulls out of the fire station with 1,000 gallons of water on the truck, which Davis said is the tanker’s full capacity. There is a 15 gpm (gallon per minute) pump on Engine 3, according to Davis. Assistant Chief Waters and deputy fire chief Johnny Hipp arrived on scene two minutes or less later, with Waters driving the tanker truck, Davis said.

While Waters and Hipp were responding, Waters requested the Landrum Fire Department also assist.

At 3:15:11, Tryon’s Engine 1 responded, also a 1,000-gallon tanker truck, driven by Capt. Marshall Lipscombe, according to Davis.

“They pulled two hoses off the truck,” said Davis, “one to the front of the house and one to the back and within a minute and a half of arrival attacks were going on.”

Waters entered the home to do a search for any occupants and to fight the fire, according to Davis.

“Tank was doing two things,” Davis said, “searching and knocking the fire back.”

Waters said when he entered the house it was so engulfed he couldn’t see a thing.

“The victim was located as I was doing fire suppression and search efforts,” said Waters. “He was deceased when I found him.”

Davis said during the initial attack of the fire Waters went into the structure and within the next five minutes other firefighters from Tryon, Columbus, Saluda and Landrum also went inside the structure to fight the fire.

“Tank did everything he could to attempt to save the victim,” said Davis.

The first firefighters on scene, Waters and Hipp, are both level II firefighters, which is the highest classification in the state. Lipscombe is also a level II firefighter.

The fire was knocked down within a few minutes of the Tryon Fire Department’s arrival, according to Davis.

The investigation of a fire fatality automatically goes to the SBI for investigation. The state fire marshal’s office by state statute is also required to look into all fire fatalities. Because the state fire marshal’s office rates all fire departments, it looks into fatalities to find any deficiencies that may have occurred during the response to a fire. Davis said the state fire marshal’s office is expected to report any findings to town council and reveal whether there were any deficiencies or not during the town’s response to the fire. Those findings will likely be reported in the next couple of months, Davis said. The state fire marshal’s office looks into the response, as well as the final autopsy and cause of the fire.

The autopsy was done at the state medical examiner’s office at Wake Forest University. Some testing results are still pending to determine Miller’s exact cause of death and for the town to receive final results of the autopsy.

Compared to other fires within the town limits of Tryon, Davis said the response time is within the town’s average over the past three years.

“Typically, we have a response time from dispatch until the first truck gets on scene of 9.175 minutes,” Davis said. “The average is taken over the last three years for residential and commercial structure fires in town limits. It was nine minutes for this fire.”

The Tryon Fire Department recently requested a three-cent tax increase in order to hire a full-time employee, to replace a 1986 fire truck and to add sleeping quarters for firefighters at the fire station. The county approved a two-cent tax increase for the current budget, which began July 1. Davis said the fire department hired Waters as a full-time daytime employee and is replacing the 1986 model fire truck with the additional revenue. The town is unable to staff 24-hour coverage without sleeping quarters, Davis said.