Winner 2015

Burning Questions: WTAE Investigates Fire Response Times

WTAE-TV, Pittsburgh

Important journalism often begins with a simple “Why?” Justin Antoniotti, news director at Pittsburgh’s WTAE, wondered why the station’s news crews often got to Western Pennsylvania house fires about the same time as the firefighters, presumably the first responders. Assigned to investigate, reporter Paul Van Osdol discovered, for starters, that response times were hard to come by, owing in part to antiquated record keeping. Once he got the records – through 911 centers, not the state’s multitude of mostly volunteer fire departments, most of which were uncooperative with Van Osdol – he learned that fire response times varied wildly, from four minutes to more than an hour. He found two cases in which people died in fires less than a mile from the closest fire station. The problems his digging brought to light included understaffing, poor training and jurisdictional politics. WTAE’s series of reports and its prime-time special sparked legislative action that may result in the first substantial changes to Pennsylvania’s firefighting culture since the days of bucket brigades. For deducing a problem with Pennsylvania’s fire departments, documenting the reasons and getting action, Burning Questions: WTAE Investigates Fire Response Times wins a Peabody Award.


Executive Producers: Justin Antoniotti, Jim Parsons. Reporters: Paul Van Osdol, Sally Wiggin. Editor: Michael Lazorko. Photojournalists: Andy Benesh, Brian Caldwell, Dave Carulli, Kendall Cross, Andy Cunningham, TJ Haught, Eric Hinnebusch, Dave O’Neil, Steve Pierce, Cary Toaso.