A reported arson fire at a Gateways to Better Living group home at 75 Prestwick Dr. last Thursday, Apr. 27 caused an estimated $125,000 damage, as Boardman Trustees ordered an investigation into the use of Poland Township firemen coming to the scene, instead of the nearby Youngstown Fire Department.
Some township officials suggest damage could have been reduced, if the staff at the group home had removed a mattress that was on fire, instead of waiting for the fire-fighters to arrive at the scene.
At least two sources told The Boardman News that the Boardman Township Fire Department has a mutual aid agreement with the Youngstown Fire Department and the YFD had dispatched to truck to the fire.
Township Trustees ordered an investigation into the use of the Poland Fire Department at the scene of the fire, after hearing claims the Youngstown fire truck that had been en route to the blaze, did not come to the fire.
Trustees have been told all available off-duty manpower from the Boardman Fire Department was called-out to the scene, as well as the Poland Fire Department for a fire that took less the 20 minutes to control.
It is believed the Youngstown Fire Department truck was much closer to the Prestwick Dr. home, and as well, by the time Poland firemen arrived, the blaze had been extinguished.
Official logs show the fire was first reported at 9:09 p.m. in a bedroom of the group home.
The Boardman Fire Department report of the blaze shows the BFD didn’t get notice of the fire until 45 seconds later, and then it took fire-fighters five minutes to get to the scene.
By 9:33 p.m., within 18 minutes, the fire was under control, according the a Boardman Fire Department report, as Poland firemen then arrived at the scene for ‘rehab’ duties (setting-up fans to blow smoke out of what was left of the group home).
The Boardman Fire Department’s report, unsigned but authorized by Acting Chief Joseph Romeo, said a mutual aid call was made “due to the delay in accessing the fire.”
When fire-fighters arrived at the scene, the report says that flames were visibile and blowing out a first floor window, according to the BFD report.
Latanya Jones, identified as a manager of the facility, said she helped evacuate residents from the structure before fire crews arrived, at the same time making a 9-1-1 call.
Jones said when a smoke detector sounded, she went to investigate and was met by a resident running from a bedroom saying “I burned the house down.”
Fire-fighters were at the scene fornearly two hours, leaving at 11:26 p.m.
24 minutes later, the BFD was called back to extinguished smoldering embers, their report shows.
Ptl. Michael Dado said when he and Ptl. Jon Martin arrived at the Prestwick Dr. home they were met by Jones and a 23-year-old female resident, identified as Tiffany Michell.
When Ms. Mitchell saw Ptl. Dado, “she put her hands to her head and declared ‘I set the fire,’” Ptl. Martin reported.
Ptl. Martin said Ms. Mitchell claimed no one at the group home would help her and she set the fire “to show them she meant business” about getting mental help.
Ms. Mitchell told Ptl. Martin she used a lighter to set her blankets on fire.
Two days after the fire, Ms. Mitchell was charged with aggravated arson, after she had been medically cleared for booking and incarceration by St. Elizabeth Hospital, Ptl. J. R. Neapolitan reported. Ms. Mitchell was transported to the Mahoning County Jail on a charge of “knowingly causing or creating a substantial risk of serious physical harm to any person...at 75 Prestwick Dr.”
The group home is operated by Gateways to Better Living, headquartered at 6000 Mahoning Ave. in Austintown. Reports by both the Boardman Police and Fire Departments did not indicate how many people resided in the home.
It was the second time in a month that police had been to the group home.
On Mar. 31, police went to the home for a report of an assault that occured the day before, where a 25-year-old female resident had allegedly been assaulted by another woman who lived at the home.
Ptl. Michael Mullins answered that call and reported that Melissa Adamson, an employee of Gateways, “could not understand why police sought the name of a witness to the assault and claimed not have access to such information.”
Ms. Adamson did tell Ptl. Mullins that Heather Steele, 26, had been struck over the head with a broomstick, then struck across the bridge of her nose with the broomstick.
Ms. Steele was examined by a nurse and treated with ice packs, Ms. Adamson said.