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Family loses home to fire, unable to get a hold of 911 operator

Columbus County, NC (WWAY) — A Columbus County family lost their home and all of their possessions after a house fire last week. The couple was not able to get in touch with a 911 operator at the time of the fire.

“It’s a lot because you just work so hard and you just want somebody to go out there and put the fire out,” said fire victim Amy Smith. “If they just would have responded sooner we might be going through our own home with our new family. We can’t now.”

Brian and Amy Smith were in the bathroom of their home off Butler Town Road when their dog started barking. Brian Smith says that’s when he left the room to investigate. The fire that began on their porch was beginning to spread.

“It’s one of those times where you just don’t know what to do man,” said fire victim Brian Smith. “I don’t know, your adrenaline is pumping, it’s registering in your head but you can’t get the words out of your mouth.”

The Smith’s say after they safely exited their house they called 911. Instead of an operator they got no response.

“I started to dial 911 and I started to get weird error messages that said call cannot be completed as dialed,” said Amy Smith. “I mean just random messages.”

Neighbors who were attempting to call 911 on their behalf had similar issues.

“I just came out, the front porch was on fire, got the phone and started calling 911,” said neighbor Kristy Walters. “I called 3 or 4 times and never got an answer. It just rang and rang and rang.”

Amy Smith was later able to get a hold of a firefighter that she knew personally and that individual alerted the fire department. Finally the fire was extinguished. But it was too late, the house along with all of their possessions were gone.

“I believe if they could have been contacted then the house could have be saved,” said Brian Smith.

Jeremy Jernigan, Emergency Services Director of Columbus County, says this is the first time anything like this has happened. He also says the 911 center went “live” with new equipment last week. Jernigan says the incident is under investigation.

The Smith family is currently living with other family members and even added a member to that family over the weekend. They say despite their terrible loss they have one amazing little gain.

“Even though our house is a total loss I did get one great thing out of it, I got my little boy,” says Amy Smith. “He’s completely healthy, he’s passed all of his test and it’s like the best Christmas present even through this disaster.”

The Smith family does not know how much money they will receive from their insurance company.

If you would like to help the Smith family and their new baby boy the Pleasant Plains Baptist Church is collecting any and all donations. The church can be reached at 910-642-3939.

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