911 dispatcher says smoke is from cooking "brisket"; TX barbecue restaurant burns

(Austin, Texas-NBC) January 25, 2007 - One week ago Thursday, Bert's Barbecue in Austin, Texas burned down.

But now new details are emerging that show the fire could have been put out before any real damage was done. In fact two different people called 911 to report the fire, but the dispatcher doubted one caller and took his time with the second.

At 1:45 in the morning, a man saw heavy smoke but no flames coming from Bert's Barbecue. He thought it was on fire and called 911, but the dispatcher says the smoke is probably coming from something else.

Dispatch: It's white smoke isn't it?
Caller: Yeah, yeah it is.
Dispatch: Yeah, yeah it's probably from their smoker, like where they cook the brisket.
Caller: I see.

The dispatcher didn't send anyone to check. But at that time - Bert's was on fire.

Taxi driver Joel Perez could see it, right in front of his face. He says he "noticed that smoke was coming all around, not from here, all the way around from the building.

So he also called 911 and got the same dispatcher and the same response.

Dispatch: Okay, does it smell like the wood? Or does it smell like something else is on fire? Caller: No it smells like wood, there's a lot of it. I was just going across the street and I could smell it. There's like all this, you know, bit of a hazing smoke around here.
Dispatch: Well could they be smoking their briskets?
Caller: No, that's not brisket.

Perez says, "You could tell something was burning. It's not brisket, it's not sausage, that is burning."

At the end of Joel's call the dispatcher finally sends out firefighters to Bert's Barbecue, some 45 minutes after the first call. It would have taken firefighters 45 seconds to get there - the fire station is right down the street.

Perez is upset about the chain of events, "You just can't help but think - look, we may not be the brightest people about stuff. But that might be on fire."

Bert's is now a total loss and workers like Jason Goss are out of a job. And Goss wishes there hadn't been a delay, "I'm sure that would have helped a little bit."

In another twist, the dispatcher is a firefighter himself and is now under investigation by the Austin Fire Department.

Posted 3:19pm by Chantelle Janelle