Tuesday Nov 16 2010
Our View: Galleria emergency leaves too many concerns unaddressed
The “terrorist” threat, evacuation and fire that caused $55 million in damages at the Galleria mall last month raised many questions, and so far there have been few answers. The Roseville Police and Fire Department have done a poor job explaining how one mentally disturbed young man with a backpack and aggressive attitude could wreak so much havoc, leaving professionals in disarray. Thankfully, no lives were lost in the Oct. 21 incident. Firefighters and police deserve praise for preventing any loss of life. But since suspect Alexander Piggee did not have a machine gun, a bomb or anything resembling a hand grenade or rocket launcher, more damage was done to the livelihoods of hundreds of individuals and businesses from the fire that was allowed to burn too long than from any real or imagined weaponry. The Placer County Sheriff’s Office has a fantastic Special Enforcement Team with trained professionals who are loaded with high-tech equipment. Roseville Police has its own more than capable SWAT team. We have numerous brave firefighters from dozens of local departments who are willing to put their lives on the line to stop a madman bent on destruction. Why were none of these services immediately and forcefully employed to prevent the catastrophic fire? Roseville Fire Chief Dennis Mathisen told Gold Country News Service reporter Lien Hoang in an interview this week that the media doesn’t get it. “Those of us that were there … we have a better understanding of what went on,” he said. “What the media is promoting … much of it is speculation and uneducated commentary.” OK. That might be true. But if so, why doesn’t Chief Mathisen explain to taxpayers, those paying his salary and for all that high-tech training and equipment, exactly what did go on that day at the mall? Why were firefighters prevented from going in and putting out a small fire before it became a huge fire? Why didn’t the sprinklers work? Who turned them off and how was that communicated to all personnel at the scene? What was the back-up plan if sprinklers were indeed dysfunctional? What was in the elusive backpack that caused the mass evacuation? Why didn’t mall security immediately respond, take down the suspect and extinguish the fire? In hindsight, what did law enforcement learn from this incident? We cannot imagine one mentally disturbed guy with a backpack causing a similar evacuation at Arco Arena, Gold Country Fair, or the Placer County Jail. Piggee and his threats would have lasted about 30 seconds at the jail. With $55 million in damages, wouldn’t it make sense to spend a little more than minimum wage on Galleria mall security officers in the future? With the huge economic interest for the city and surrounding region, how about placing sworn officers there permanently? And perhaps of utmost importance, what confidence can the public have that if another mentally disturbed young man comes into the mall with a suspicious backpack, that the economic vitality of the region, hundreds of jobs and millions in damages won’t be impacted again? Placer County Supervisors and Roseville City Council leaders should demand a thorough examination of the response and a detailed analysis of what went wrong and why. Residents, however, should not hold their collective breaths waiting for elected leaders to do anything but praise emergency personnel’s efforts. Nearly 15 months after the 49 Fire destroyed 63 Auburn homes and three business and caused tens of millions of losses, not one elected official seems to have the courage, other than perhaps Assemblyman Ted Gaines, to even question the haphazard response and fruitless subsequent investigation. Fifteen months later, not one arrest has been made or even a suspect description released in the 49 Fire investigation. Many residents simply do not believe investigators are doing an adequate job and have been forced to hire their own private investigator. In the mall fire, we thankfully have a suspect in custody. That’s great and law enforcement deserves praise for that. The pathetic reality, however, is that even with all of our high-tech communications abilities, with all of our SWAT teams, SET teams, highly skilled law enforcement and exceptionally brave and capable firefighters, some poor decisions were made from the top that enabled a relatively harmless criminal to wreak havoc on the local economy. Residents deserve a full accounting of what happened, who was responsible for the delayed response, and what changes are being implemented to ensure this does not happen again.