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Alleged bad advice leads to fire lawsuit for emergency agency

An Oak Harbor man filed a lawsuit against Island County’s emergency dispatch center, claiming that a dispatcher’s bad advice two years ago led to a serious injury.

Gregory Cunningham’s attorney, Deborah Truitt of Oak Harbor, filed the complaint against Island County Emergency Services Communication Center, commonly known as ICOM, on Aug. 24. The complaint asks for an unspecific amount of damages for medical costs, pain and suffering, and economic loss.

The complaint states that Cunningham was cooking at his home on Sept. 29, 2007, when a grease fire started. He called 911 for help and the ICOM operator told him the best thing to do was to put flour on the grease fire, the complaint states.

Cunningham threw flour on the fire and there was an explosion, the complaint claims. He suffered severe burns to his hand.

Tom Shaughnessy, director of ICOM, said the complaint was turned over to the insurance company. He couldn’t comment on specifics of the ongoing litigation.

Battalion Chief Ray Merrill with the Oak Harbor Fire Department confirmed that the stovetop fire occurred on Elwha Street. He said the fire did not spread beyond the cooking utensil.

Merrill said that throwing flour on a grease fire could cause on explosion. He said flour, sugar and water should not be used to extinguish a grease fire. Even using baking soda or a fire extinguisher is a bad idea, he said, because it could spread the fire.

“The best thing, if you can, is to take the pan off the stove and place a lid on it to smother the fire,” he said.

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