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Plum neighbor's 911 fire call answered with recording

| Friday, May 17, 2013, 7:26 a.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Firefighters work to extinguish flames from a residence along Stonehaven Court in Plum on Thursday May 16, 2013.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Firefighters work to extinguish flames from a residence along Stonehaven Court in Plum on Thursday May 16, 2013.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Firefighters work to extinguish flames from a residence along Stonehaven Court in Plum on Thursday May 16, 2013.

A rapidly moving fire Thursday afternoon raced through the rear of a house in Plum causing no injuries but heavy damage.

Neighbors who discovered the fire at 50 Stonehaven Court, a house owned by Domenic Riccuiti, were upset that they had problems getting through to Allegheny County 911 to summon help.

Bernie Gioia,who lives next to the Riccuiti house, said he tried to call 911 after his daughter, Melani, 10, alerted him to black smoke in the Rockland Manor housing plan.

“I went downstairs to ask my dad why there was all this black smoke above our house,” Melani said.

“When I went out on the back deck, their pool house was just engulfed,” Gioia said.

He hurriedly called 911 at 5:50 p.m. and said he was greeted by a recording.

“It said it was temporarily disconnected or temporarily offline,” Gioia said. “I couldn't remember exactly what it said. I don't know how 911 goes off line.”

He said he did manage to get through when he called back at 5:51 p.m. but had trouble hearing the person on the other end.

Charity Pagano, who lives on the other side of the Riccuiti's, said she noticed the smoke when she went out in her backyard.

“I saw all this smoke coming from behind the house and the smoke was coming from the eaves like crazy, “ Pagano said.

She said she tried to call 911 around the same time and met with similar results.

“It was a recording telling me they were putting me on hold,” Pagano said. “I thought, ‘What the heck' and I just hung up. I couldn't believe it.”

An Allegheny County 911 supervisor who would only give his first name, Jimmy, said that fire units were dispatched at 5:51 p.m.

He would not comment on the residents' complaints and said that is something for the 911 administrators to address. He would not grant a reporter's request to have an administrator contact him to provide a comment for this story.

He said the administrators were aware that neighbors had complained and would investigate.

Gioia said he tried to put water on the fire with a garden hose but without much effect.

“We got here and there was a ton of fire in the back of the house,” said Renton First Assistant Chief Dave Bender, who arrived first at the scene. “There was nobody home and it was locked.”

He said teams of firefighters were sent inside to make an interior attack but had to be pulled out when the situation became dangerous.

Bender said, “It looks like it ran right up the side of house.”

He said about 45 firefighters from all four Plum fire companies responded along with Sardis and rapid intervention teams from Monroeville and Wilkins Township. Bender said it took about an hour to get the fire under control.

The Allegheny County Fire Marshal will investigate the cause.

Bender said he was not aware of any issue with 911 and said the dispatchers “were doing a great job” of updating firefighters as they approached the scene.

Pagano said when she could not get through to 911, she tried calling Riccuiti, who lives in the house with his wife and son Johnathan, 29. She could not reach the parents but did contact the son.

“Actually, I was just getting on the turnpike and Charity was calling me, frantic,” Riccuiti said.

He said he became worried about his parents when he could not contact them, forgetting that they were out golfing.

Riccuiti said that his father, a contractor, built the house and the other houses in the Rockland Manor plan. He said theirs was the last house built and they had lived there for about 11 years.

He said his parents were at a neighbor's house and did not want to speak to news media because they were too shaken.

As for the damage, Johnathan Riccuiti said he did not know about how extensive it was inside.

Looking at it from the outside, he said, “From what I saw the family room, the kitchen, my parents' bedroom and part of the basement are gone.”

He said his parents would likely stay at a hotel and he would probably stay at a friend's home for the night.

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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