The Tribal Council People's Defense Committee investigation into the fire that destroyed the Community Center on Washington Street has been developing slowly but surely. Our plan has been to contact as many people as possible who were there, and take written testimony of their experience that night and what they observed. Our main interests were in finding out information about the start of the fire as well as the way the Fire Department handled the situation.
So far we've got a list of about 100 names of people who were there. There were around 300 people the night of the fire, so we have a ways to go. Part of the problem has been in gathering full names- we get a lot of first names, as people think about who they saw there that night, and then we have to do a whole thing to get the full names. After that the problem is figuring out what to do about getting in touch with all these people. We're gathering phone numbers and calling the people and asking them to meet with us, which is another whole problem with transportation, either to take us out to meet with people where they are or for them to come where we are. Included is the problem of time, figuring out when people can get together. It all adds up to taking a lot longer than we thought it would.
But as it turns out this part of the investigation is not as primary as it was at first. The night of the fire there were a lot of people who felt the firemen were neglecting the fire and letting the building burn. We called for an investigation thinking that it would be entirely possible for that to happen if the Fire Department dealt with rainbow people the way other city departments tend to. We were criticized heavily by different segments of the community for even questioning the firemen's handling of the situation, but to us it was too important to let slide.
Once we started the investigation the information we received almost immediately changed the whole thrust of what we were doing. We don't doubt the sincerity of the firemen at this point at all. What has come into question is the entire Fire Department and its policies and practices. The Community Center fire served to show the contradictions within the Fire Department to organized community workers dedicated to dealing with people's needs. Seeing the way they handled that fire there was nothing else we could do but to cali for an investigation. We criticize ourselves for letting the first public information sound as if we had proof the firemen were negligent. We know they are sincere with their jobs and are no doubt frustrated at the conditions of their work.
So what we need now is any information at all from anybody who has had any experience with the Fire Department which they would like people to know about which they think might be useful. We feel pretty strongly that there is a danger to the community, that it can be shown clearly and that it can change. Be sure and contact us at 761-1729, all together is how we can j bring change.
-- People's Defense Committee