Tom Cooper watched as a fire spread from his garage, to his back porch, then his home on St. James Lane. His son already called 911. So did his neighbors. They pulled water hoses to try and keep flames from spreading to other homes. By the time the fire department arrived, Cooper's home was gutted. Two neighbors' homes sustained minor damage.
"My neighbor was calling, my son was calling everybody was calling. And it just took them forever to get here," said Cooper.
Chris Hausmann and his brother Brian were visiting their parents, who live two houses away from Cooper. Chris showed News 4's Diana Zoga his cell phone log and a call to the Cahokia dispatch at 2:05 p.m. Brian Hausmann also called 911 at 2:06 p.m. The men said the phone at the Cahokia police dispatch office rang and rang.
Cahokia's fire chief confirmed that firefighters arrived at the scene at 2:22 p.m. Seventeen minutes after the Hausmann's first call.
"If the fire department was here five minutes earlier than they were, the house wouldn't have been engulfed as it is," said Chris Hausmann.
The Hausmanns said that the first firefighters also had trouble pulling hoses off the fire truck. Brian Hausmann and another neighbor, Kelvin Chism said they had to help the firefighters.
"It seemed like they were short-handed," said Chris Hausmann.
Cahokia's Fire Department is made up of 20 volunteers, according to Chief Roger Lourwood. When volunteers are called, they have to leave their homes, drive to one of two fire houses, gear up and load into a truck. Chief Lourwood also said that one dispatcher is on-duty at the Cahokia Police Department which dispatches for the police department and other fire departments in the community.
Chief Lourwood said his goal is for firefighters to respond to a fire within 7 to 10 minutes of getting the 911 call. He attributed some of the delay, on Sunday, to the dispatch center getting flooded with 911 calls. Chief Lourwood said the dispatcher had to call in volunteers and answer every 911 call, at the same time.
Neighbors said they kept calling because the fire continued to spread. Neighbors said someone on another street was burning leaves and that the embers traveled to Cooper's garage, starting the fire. Chief Lourwood said that was a possibility, but fire fighters have not yet confirmed the cause of the fire.
It is legal to burn leaves in Cahokia, but it is not recommended people attempt to burn on windy days.
According to Chief Lourwood, one firefighter suffered heat exhaustion and was taken to the hospital, as a precaution.
No one else was hurt.