Husband of Hannibal 911 dispatcher reports house fire while wife is on duty

Sunday, November 30, 2008 | 6:04 p.m. CST

HANNIBAL — Lisa Potter is glad she did not take the call.

Lisa, a Marion County 911 dispatcher, was on duty when her husband, Lonnie Potter, called 911 on Nov. 24, to report their house was on fire. However, Lisa was on the radio, and her partner was taking the phone calls, so she took his call at 3:50 a.m. “She motioned for me, and I read the event (on the computer screen) and saw my address,” Lisa said. “I froze.”

Potter quickly learned that her husband had taken their two daughters and escaped the house fire before anyone was injured. The girls are Madison, 8, and Kendall, 6.

Her partner did a great job of handling the situation, Lisa said. “She was remarkable. She did it all and got the fire department dispatched and everybody.”

Two 911 dispatchers are on duty at all times, Lisa explained, and the 911 director, Mike Hall, came in and took over for her so she could join her family.

The Hannibal Fire Department took nine firefighters to the fire, and one of them suffered a minor injury. The fire department reported that they found the attached garage fully engulfed in flames.

The fire was brought under control in less than 10 minutes, although the garage was a loss. The interior of the house had minor fire and smoke damage. A second garage, which is unattached, had minor heat damage.

Later that day, the fire department, the Hannibal Police Department and the state fire marshal’s office were investigating the cause of the fire. Fire officials reported it was classified as a criminal investigation.

Capt. James Hark, assistant chief of the police department, explained the Missouri state fire marshal had been called to determine the origin of the fire, and by that evening the investigation had not been concluded. “The detectives with the Hannibal Police Department will be assisting in the investigation,” Hark said.

After the fire, the local chapter of the American Red Cross provided the Potter family a room at Day’s Inn hotel, where they were lodged until their insurance company provided housing funds.

Lonnie Potter said they hoped the house was not too badly damaged for them to eventually return.

He explained how he discovered the fire. “I was sitting there around 4 (a.m.) and heard a big whoosh sound. I got up and went to our daughters’ rooms and woke them up. I was heading out of the house and called 9-1-1.” He saw the fire through the back door, he said, “around my daughters’ rooms in back of the house. ... It was scary until after I had them out — it was pretty terrifying.”

Lonnie Potter recalled that his pastor later said he was glad Lonnie was the person who reported the fire with Lisa on duty at the 911 center, because it would have been worse if a neighbor had reported it, and Lisa did not know the family was safe.

Lonnie Potter, an ordained minister and youth minister of their church, expressed concern for the “spiritual being” of whoever is responsible for the fire — “to light it, knowing there’s people in the house sleeping,” he said.

The fire department rescued the family’s four pets, Lonnie Potter said. “The Hannibal Fire Department went beyond their duty and made sure my kids had all four of their pets. There were two left in at the very end, while they were still keeping the blaze down.

“They hid in a corner, and the firefighters went under where they were and got them out,” he said. “They brought out two small kittens.” The other pets are two dogs, a Chihuahua and a Bischon. A friend and family members are temporarily keeping the pets.

Lonnie Potter said he wants to help other people someday. “I hope when this is over for me, my church and my family can help people who are in this situation.”


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