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Sisters upset over alleged mistreatment by Sumter Fire Department

By Ken Gustafson

AMERICUS — At the Sumter County Board of Commissioners (BOC) monthly work session on Tuesday, Jo Ellen Mullis, along with her sister, Phyllis Keaton, expressed their frustration over how they were treated by the Sumter County Fire Department when their deceased mother’s house burned down on Oct. 29, 2018. The house is located at 463 Ed Stephens Road in Cobb.
“We are addressing the Sumter County Fire Department,” Mullis told the board. Keaton said their mother’s house caught on fire, the fire department was called, and they did “nothing.” Keaton said a Crisp County firefighter arrived. However, when he arrived, Mullis said he was told by the Sumter County fireman to get off of their territory and get out of their jurisdiction. “My one complaint is the way they stood there and did nothing. We have video for all of it,” Keaton said. Mullis does have a video posted on Facebook page. Mullis told the board she was made to feel very unimportant that day by volunteer firefighters on the scene. “I have never felt more like a piece of dirt on the ground than I did that day.” Keaton went on to say that they both realize that their mother’s home was not a $300,000 home, but a mobile home. She told the board that she was in Vienna when she got the call about the fire and that she drove and got to the river, in her words, “in record time.”
“When I pulled up there, they (the Sumter County firemen) were still standing there not doing anything,” Keaton said. “When I pulled up, it was still smoldering.” She said a sheriff’s deputy was on the scene was trying to calm Mullis down.
“They could have saved our mother’s house,” Keaton said. “ … The way we were treated that day and the way they addressed the house being on fire … ” Keaton continued.
Board Chairman Clay Jones asked County Clerk Rayetta Volley if she has had discussions with Sumter County Fire & Rescue Chief John Ekaitis. Volley said she and the chief have discussed it, but they want to discuss it further before they can give the board an opinion. “We were not aware that this would be coming up so we would like to discuss it further,” Volley said.
Keaton added that she and Mullis would like to be in on that discussion. Mullis went on to say that one of the Sumter County firemen told her that he thought she started the fire. Both Keaton and Mullis told the board that particular fireman was in the (meeting) chamber. Mullis broke down in tears and told the BOC that she was crying because she feels that the house could have been saved. “Never have I ever been treated like that before,” Mullis said. “The Sumter County Fire Department needs to be addressed.”
Both sisters reiterated to the board that there is video of the fire, along with the alleged behavior of the firemen on Facebook. Chairman Jones asked Mullis and Keaton if their mother was still living in the house. They said that their mother is deceased and that Mullis’ daughter was living in the house, but was at work when the fire took place. Keaton added that she felt that they were treated poorly because the house was a doublewide trailer.
According to Sumter County Fire Chief John Ekaitis, who was contacted by the Times-Recorder later, the firefighters followed all of the proper procedures. “The firefighter on the scene followed all of the standard operating guidelines for Sumter County Fire and Rescue and all of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards,” Ekaitis said. “As more people arrived on the scene, the fire was put out.”
The Americus Times-Recorder has obtained a recording of the original 911 call involving the fire at the house. The original call came in at 1:33 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2018, and was reported by a passer-by.