Defective Radio System Implicated when Fire burns home in Petersburg Michigan

By: Ray Kisonas story updated March 20. 2006 12:14PM.

From Monroe Evening News

A father and two of his children had to leap from a window in their Summerfield Townshiphome to escape a seven-alarm fire that quickly engulfed and destroyed their house during the weekend.

No one was injured in the early morning blaze Saturday, but several family pets were killed. The home, which was next door to the fire station in the 4400 block of Sylvania-Petersburg Road, was leveled.

Robert Kulhanek and his family are staying in a hotel.

"I was the first (firefighter) on the scene and flames already had burned through the roof," said Nick Lucas, chief of the Summerfield Township Volunteer Fire Department. "The whole back of the house just exploded in flames. It just went."

Despite the house being close to the fire station, firefighters said they were delayed in responding because a communication tower was not operating properly and they did not receive the page immediately.

Chief Lucas said he happened to have his pager in the open position at the time and happened to hear brief discussion from Monroe County Central Dispatch about a structure fire in Summerfield Township. But he never received the fire tone page.

Hearing that, he hustled to the fire station where he was able to manually set off the pagers for the rest of the firefighters. In the meantime, flames swiftly moved through the two-story house.

The chief said the transmission problem could have had an effect on firefighters' response times and efforts to save the structure.

"It probably slowed things down getting the guys there," Chief Lucas said. "I guarantee that."

Ron Berns, director of Monroe County Central Dispatch, said this morning that the problem was a power surge that knocked out a tower in Ida. Since the tower was not working properly, it could not transmit the signal to the firefighters' pagers. He said the failure was not part of the county's new $9 million 800 MHz system.

"That has nothing to do with what happened," Mr. Berns said. "The communication with the firefighters was fine. The tones didn't go out."

The Ida tower was struck by lightning on March 4 but it was repaired the next day, Mr. Berns said. On Friday there was a power surge that disabled the tower, which led to it not receiving and sending the pager tone to the firefighters.

Mr. Berns said a backup system is in place and this morning he was checking to see if the backup system was working properly.

Meanwhile the Monroe County Fire Investigation team is looking into the cause and origin of the fire that killed the family's four cats, two dogs and a snake.

Investigator Jim Kansier said Mr. Kulhanek was in the garage working on a vehicle when the smoke detector activated about 12:30 a.m. He ran into the house and saw the couch and curtains in flames. Mr. Kansier said Mr. Kulhanek then ran upstairs to get his two kids, believed to be a 12-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl, who were sleeping. The mother and an older child were away for the night.

Mr. Kansier said the father grabbed the two and they were about to descend the stairs, but smoke and fire blocked their pathway. So he knocked out a window and the three crawled onto the roof of the porch. From there they jumped to the ground to safety.

Mr. Kulhanek put the kids in a van and moved it away from the burning home. Then he removed two other vehicles from the garage before calling 911, Mr. Kansier said.

The garage door was open, and firefighters said the air helped feed the fire. By the time Chief Lucas heard the talk and sped to the station, the house was full of flames.

Mr. Kansier guessed the fire was able to spread at least 15 to 20 minutes before the first stream of water arrived.

"Any time you've got a delay ... it goes pretty quick," Mr. Kansier said. "And we're looking at a pretty sizeable delay."

Fire departments from Dundee, Ida, Ottawa Lake, Whiteford, Deerfield and Britton assisted Summerfield at the scene. Many firefighters were there seven to eight hours.

Mr. Kansier said the cause is undetermined, but several candles were burning at the time. He said it appears the fire was accidental.

The Monroe County Chapter of the American Red Cross is assisting the family.


It the writers opinion Mr. Berns seems to have a duty to appear to use double speak to explain that it worked fine—it just did not work at all and that is fine with him it appears.  The power surge theory is amusing.  Anytime bad engineering or poor maintenance is involved just blame God.  Who does not have a surge suppressor on their computer?


Investigator Jim Kansier is The Fire Marshall for the City of Monroe considered by all to be capable and dedicated to serve as an investigator and a first class expert in fire safety.


Chief Lucas and many other county volunteers have, in the writer’s opinion, been lied to so many times by county officials concerning keeping a promise to provide clear dependable paging and communication that they have probably substantially lowered their expectations of and real help from the county.  Even so, they do their best and are able to continue to serve in the highest tradition of public service.


Thanks Ray Kisonas and Monroe Evening News for excellent investigative reporting

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