Fire chief: KC copper thief put public safety at risk, delayed emergency crews

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City, Mo. Fire Department chief says a thief put public safety at risk after a communications connection to a fire station was deliberately cut. Firefighters say stolen copper cables delayed rescuers in responding to a deadly car fire over the weekend.

Investigators say a thief stole copper cables near 9th and Elmwood, cutting off the computer-aided dispatch system to the fire station at Independence and Van Brunt.

Crews at the station were closest to a fiery crash reported just after 3 a.m. Saturday near North Hardesty and St. John. But the communications breakdown delayed alerting firefighters to the call, leaving two people trapped in a burning vehicle for nearly five minutes longer than they should have been.

"We know when we got there there was a lady screaming for help and we immediately went into action to pull her, to extricate her from the rear passenger window," said Paul Berardi, KCFD's chief.

Berardi says that woman is now at the burn unit of the University of Kansas Hospital in critical condition. The chief says even the fastest response probably would not have saved the driver, who died in the crash. But firefighters believe four or five minutes would have prevented some suffering the trapped woman had to endure.

"We wish we were there four minutes earlier," Berardi said. "What would have happened, I can't say. It stands to reason that we would have gotten her out four minutes earlier than we got her out."

With the alarm system and phone lines disabled at the fire station, a radio operated back-up alarm alerted firefighters to the call. But first responders had to phone in on their personal cellphones to learn the details.

The fire chief says police are aggressively investigating this copper theft.

Berardi wants everyone to know that the few dollars you would get in scrap value for copper cable isn't worth jeopardizing someone's life.

A corporate security officer for AT&T told FOX 4 News the copper cables stolen were only worth about $1 in scrap value. But restoring communication services is expected to cost the company more than $1,000.

ATT gave FOX 4 this statement:

"We are investigating the early Saturday morning theft of copper phone lines at the intersection of 9th Street and Elmwood and cooperating with local law enforcement to find those responsible. The damage, which occurred just before 3 a.m. and triggered our monitoring alert system, affected voice and data services for some nearby customers. Copper theft is a serious matter that affects public safety and the community at large.

AT&T is offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. Tipsters can remain anonymous, so we encourage anyone with information to call law enforcement or AT&T Asset Protection at 1-800-807-4205."