|Birth: ||Oct. 2, 2004|
|Death: ||Jan. 17, 2009|
The cause of a fire just east of downtown that killed a pregnant mother and her two children this month has been ruled accidental.
Firefighters went to the home at 722 E. Jefferson Blvd. on Jan. 17. The two-story building was engulfed in flames, and Brandi Bender, 23, who was eight months pregnant, and her two sons, Nicholas Adkins, 5, and Peyton Bender, 4, all died inside.
Investigators on Tuesday ruled the cause accidental, saying the fire started in the kitchen near the stove. The fire was either caused by burned food on the stove or a space heater in the kitchen, Fire Chief Pete Kelly said.
"It was one or the other," he said.
A blanket hanging in a doorway near the space heater might have ignited, Kelly said. He could not verify Tuesday night whether the space heater was being used as a primary source of heat.
"No one indicated that," he said.
Bender and her sons were in a second-story bedroom at the time of the fire. That floor ended up collapsing, and their remains were found in a first-floor bedroom, Kelly said.
The Allen County Coroner's Office said Bender and her sons died of smoke inhalation.
"I believe there was just too much smoke," Kelly said. "The smoke was so thick you couldn't make it down (out of the home) through manual means."
A man inside the home survived the blaze after he jumped from a second-floor window. He was taken to a hospital after the fire for treatment of his injuries from the fall.
Meanwhile, an investigation is under way by the city communications department to see whether calls to 911 for help were dispatched properly. Firefighters were initially dispatched to West Jefferson Boulevard, about 14 blocks from the fire scene, according to 911 calls.
The first person to call 911 immediately told a dispatcher the fire was in the "900 block of Jefferson."
"Oh my God! Hurry up!" she says.
The dispatcher asked the caller to describe the building that was on fire. Two minutes into the call, the dispatcher said help was on the way. Thirty seconds later, the dispatcher can be heard asking a co-worker, "How come it's not been dispatched?"
"The whole house is just on fire," the caller says. "There is smoke just rolling out."
Close to four minutes into the call, the dispatcher said another person had placed a 911 call and given the exact address. Then at 4 minutes and 20 seconds, the dispatcher asked, "You said West Jefferson, correct?"
At 5 minutes into the call, firefighters had still not arrived, and the dispatcher asked the caller for a cross street. The caller said Hanna Street, and the dispatcher said firefighters will have to "come east."
The dispatcher who handled the first call for help has more than 10 years of service with the department, said Tina Taviano, director of communications.
"(The investigation) entails a review of the dispatch calls, the radio traffic, all the audio calls, everything going on in the dispatch center," she said. "On any investigation we are going to compare the call radio traffic to our policy."
The first question dispatchers are taught to ask 911 callers is the location of their emergency. According to the call tape, the dispatcher asked this question. But it wasn't until about six minutes into the call that the correct address was discovered.
Fire department officials say the additional time to arrive at the correct address would not have saved the family. Assistant Chief Ron Privett was on the scene before trucks arrived, having been traveling the opposite direction, said Susan Banta, fire department representative.
Kelly said he conducted a review into how firefighters responded to the call, having followed directions given by a dispatcher.
"There was really no error on their part," he said.
In Larwill, the Bender family continues to grieve. A full-time mother to her boys, Brandi Bender, who was from Whitley County, had moved to Fort Wayne recently. She had an associate degree in medical billing from Penn Foster along with an associate degree in medical assisting from Brown Mackie College.
On Monday, her mother, Anita Bender, got a tattoo on her left forearm to remember her daughter and grandchildren. The tattoo is a heart, inscribed with their names along with the date of the tragedy.
"That way when I sleep at night they are close to my heart," Bender said. "They'll never be forgotten."
Bender said it's hardest not ever being able to meet her next grandchild – Justice Anthony Bender-Wheaton, Brandi's unborn child.
"Brandi was a wonderful mother," Bender said. "They were the best two little boys we could ever had."
Regardless of the investigation over dispatching for the fire, Bender said she has only one plea.
"If you hear the sirens, see the lights, get out of the way," she said. "It could make a difference."
All too often motorists ignore those emergency responders. In a profession where every second counts, that could mean the difference between life and death.
"We're not blaming, we are not pointing fingers," Bender said. "Everyone did the best job that they could do."
Peyton Lee Bender, age 4, passed away in a house fire with his mother, Brandi A. Bender, and brothers, Nicholas Ryan Adkins, and unborn infant, Justice Anthony Bender-Wheaton on Saturday, January 17, 2009 in Fort Wayne, IN. Born on October 2, 2004 in Columbia City, he was the son of Richard L. Shoemaker and Brandi A. Bender. He lived in Whitley County for three years and the past year, he resided in Fort Wayne. He enjoyed playine nerf guns with his brother, Nicholas. Survivors include his father, Richard L. (Cassie Hoffman) Shoemaker of Columbia City; aunts, Jaime (William) Burton and Mariah Heckman both of Columbia City, Kelli Bender of Fort Wayne, Karly and Scarlet Bender of Larwill; uncle, Jason (Amanda) Shoemaker of Larwill; grandparnets, Denise (David) Heckman of Columbia City, Charles and Anita Bender of Larwill and Ron (Diana)Shoemaker of Columbia City; great-grandparents, Gene and Karen Heckman of Columbia City, Charles and Wilma Bender of Columbia City, Carl (Judy) Goff of New Haven; great-great grandmother, Ada Nandemon of Columbia City; cousins, Jordan, Erin and Taylor Shoemaker, Amanda and Amy Goff. Combined visitation for Peyton, Brandi, Nichlas and Justice is Tuesdsay, January 20, 2009 from 2:00 - 8:00 p.m. at DeMoneyh-Grimes Countryside Park Funeral Home, 600 Countryside Drive, Columbia City, IN. Funeral service is Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 10:00 a.m. at the funeral home wiht Pastor Rick Pride of Eagle Quest Church officiating. Burial will follow at Stough Cemetery, Columbia City. Memorials may be given in memory of Peyton, Brandi, Nicholas and Justice to B.A.B.E. of Columbia City. Please visit www.demoneygrimes.com to send family condolences or sign the guest register book.
Brandi Ann Bender (1985 - 2009)
Nicholas Ryan Adkins (2003 - 2009)*
Peyton Lee Bender (2004 - 2009)
Justice Anthony (unborn) Bender-Wheaton (2009 - 2009)*
Maintained by: Heather (Angel_Graver)
Originally Created by: Aria - Patched Angel
Record added: Jan 28, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 33338397