One Eastern Carolina county updates dispatch areas after two fires within four days

BEAUFORT COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) – A couple is left distraught after losing their belongings and three dogs to a house fire on New Year’s Eve morning. Their experience found them advocating for change that appears to have already taken place.

This family and their neighbors told WITN they are concerned that a fire station less than two miles away wasn’t authorized to respond until three other units showed up and requested more help.

Brad Cumston and Lindsey Duke watched from the street as firefighters worked to calm the flames consuming the inside of their home. The tragedy has found the couple asking questions.

“Why is the closest fire department that is fully trained with a fire truck that has water not the first one here, not the here at all,” said Duke.

Duke and her husband, Brad Cumston believe precious time was lost by the Washington Fire Department not being dispatched to their Wharton Street home. Instead, Clark’s Neck Volunteer Fire Department, which is a mile farther from their home, was dispatched. According to standard practices, this follows protocol. However, the unimaginable loss sparked several emotions.

“Devastation. Terror – you can’t do anything, it’s a very helpless feeling… very,” said Duke.

The fire in their home started in the kitchen and after the investigation, Clark’s Neck fire officials said two stove top knobs were found in the on position and several items nearby. The couple had 6 dogs, three died in the fire, but Cumston tells us one dog was notorious for jumping on the counters and looking for leftover food.

“Nobody was there and they saw the burner on, ya know they’re on and the only thing we can think is nobody is going to break in the house cause of the dogs so we didn’t do it, so it had to have been the dog,” said Cumston.

After speaking with county officials, WITN is told every department has a mutual aid agreement handled by the chiefs. We’re told The Clark’s neck mutual aid agreement for structure fire response originally included Chocowinity and Bunyan fire department.

We caught up with Clark’s Neck Fire, Chief Bryan Dixon, at another fire on Tuesday, he told WITN change is underway as a result of the Wharton Street Fire.

“The outcome of every fire, we evaluate what happened and what we can do better. In this evaluation, we have decided after talking about all the circumstances we faced in this one to add Washington as a fourth department in this location,” said Chief Dixon. “Just to help with the response times, in the manpower on scene.”

Now, according to Chief Dixon, four fire departments will automatically be dispatched for calls from the residential areas of Page Road back toward the city of Washington.

  • Clarks Neck Volunteer Fire Department
  • Chocowinity Volunteer Fire Department
  • Bunyan Volunteer Fire Department
  • Washington Fire Department

Cumston said he was glad a change was made. Cumston and his wife now hope that other departments take this as an opportunity to look for any similar patterns in their response plans.

The fire that erupted off of highway 264 Tuesday afternoon is one of the first to benefit from Washington City Fire under this new mutual aid agreement. Washington Firefighters were first to the scene to extinguish the flames.