In the days after the Veranda House fire on July 9, Nantucket Current submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the 911 calls that came in that morning to the island's public safety dispatchers.
We requested these records to verify the timeline provided by fire officials with regard to the response to the blaze, and they confirm the initial account shared by Nantucket fire chief Steve Murphy. The first Nantucket Fire Department engine was on the scene of the fire within 8 to 10 minutes of the first 911 call.
That first call came in to Nantucket public safety dispatchers at 6:45 a.m.
The records show it was made by Venessa Smith, a single mother of two who was delivering newspapers that morning and came upon the blaze.
Listen to the entire call here:
As Smith told the Current last month, she stopped her car on North Water Street, called 911 and immediately began screaming for guests to get out of the burning building. The 36 guests and one staff member inside the historic inn all made it out alive, thanks in part to Smith's actions, along with those of others who ran to the scene that morning, including off-duty NFD captain Nate Barber.
With Smith still on the line with dispatchers, Nantucket Fire Department Captain Jeff Allen can be heard on the recording at 6:48 a.m. aboard the first engine heading to the fire, both assessing the situation and giving orders.
"We already have smoke showing from the (Milestone) rotary right now," Allen reports to dispatchers. "Return the ambulance immediately from the detail (inaudible) and get the deputy chief on the air as soon as this call..."
The records obtained by the Current corroborate the Nantucket Fire Department's initial assessment of its response. The first 911 call arrives at 6:45 a.m. - precisely when Nantucket fire chief Steve Murphy said it came in.
Murphy announced the day after the blaze that the first engine arrived at the scene of the fire by 6:53 a.m. - meaning it took the first firefighters approximately eight minutes to arrive.
Nantucket Current also obtained time-stamped photos from one of the guests who made it out of the fire - John Scarminach - which show an engine had arrived at Step Lane by at least 6:55 a.m.
After Smith's first 911 call at 6:45 a.m. that morning, more than 40 other 911 calls about the fire came in to dispatchers at the town's public safety facility at 4 Fairgrounds Road.
The second call, which also came in at 6:45 a.m., indicates how quickly the fire had grown into a raging inferno that was engulfing an entire section of the building before firefighters had even had a chance to leave the station.
"The entire thing is in flames," said the caller, who stated he lived across the street.
That rapid spread of the fire likely occurred because the blaze is believed to have started on the exterior of the building after an employee discarded a cigarette into an area where trash was being stored beneath the decks of the Veranda House. That allowed the fire to grow undetected for a period of time.
A subsequent call came in from another neighbor of the Veranda House which captured the intensity of the moment for those who were witnessing the historic inn go up in flames.
"It's bad," the woman can be heard telling the dispatcher. "Hurry, hurry, hurry!"