LOS ANGELES — Firefighters were unable to begin lifesaving efforts on actor Anne Heche for 45 minutes after she crashed into a home on Aug. 5, according to fire department records and time-stamped recordings of radio communications.
Heche, 53, was removed from life support and died Aug. 14, nine days after the fiery crash.
The recordings, which the Los Angeles Fire Department provided to NBC Los Angeles under the California Public Records Act, reveal that firefighters couldn’t get access to Heche’s car for at least 20 minutes and that it took at least 20 more minutes to pull the car out of the burning building to rescue her.
“Given the heavy fire and smoke conditions, it wasn’t that you could clearly see into the vehicle or clearly be able to access it,” Deputy Fire Chief Richard Fields told NBC Los Angeles.
“Heavy smoke conditions, heavy fire conditions, which makes it very difficult for us to just see each other on the inside of a working structure fire,” he said.
Heche, known for her role in “Donnie Brasco” and other films, died of inhalation and thermal injuries, the Los Angeles County medical examiner ruled last month. The manner was found to be an accident.
A death certificate lists Heche’s date of death as Aug. 11. Her spokesperson said Aug. 12 that she was brain-dead but was being kept on life support so her organs could be donated.
Heche crashed her Mini Cooper into the home in Mar Vista, a neighborhood in the west side of the city, around 10:56 a.m., the fire department has said.
It said at the time that firefighters took 65 minutes “to access, confine and fully extinguish the stubborn flames within the heavily damaged structure, and rescue one female adult found within the vehicle.”
According to the recordings released to NBC Los Angeles, the first fire engine arrived at the scene at 11:01 a.m., and within seconds dispatchers radioed a report that a person was trapped in the car that had crashed into the house.
“There is a person stuck inside the vehicle,” the dispatcher said.
The first engine directed arriving paramedics to immediately treat a woman firefighters had found in the home. Fields, the deputy fire chief, said the patient was initially identified was a resident of the home, not the driver of the car.
At 11:18 a.m. one of the firefighters working on the fire radioed that no one else was inside, according to the recordings. “We do have no patients at this time,” the firefighter said.
Four minutes later, at 11:22 a.m., after overlapping radio messages from firefighters inside, one of the incident commanders began to ask again about the driver.
“Let me clear this up — so, you do have a patient in the car?” the incident commander said over the radio.
At 11:25 a.m., a firefighter can be heard saying through an oxygen mask that he had found the driver.
“We have identified one patient, inaccessible at this time. He’s pushed up against the floorboard!” the firefighter said, according to the recording.
Fields said the patient, now known to be Heche, had collapsed below the front seats of her Mini Cooper.
Once she was found and confirmed to be alive, firefighters used a heavy-duty tow truck to pull the car — with Heche still inside — out of the smoldering home. She was removed from the wrecked vehicle around 11:49 a.m., records show.
“We have one patient in the auto, being assessed, about to be loaded up on the gurney for transport,” a firefighter said over the radio.
The Los Angeles County coroner’s office said its death investigation hasn’t been finalized.
Heche was treated first at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center before she was transferred for specialized care to the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital. She was in a coma, her representative had said.
The fire department said that even if Heche’s presence in the wrecked car had been confirmed immediately, it is unlikely that firefighters would have responded differently.
An after-action presentation prepared for fire department staff members noted that it took 30 minutes to fight the fire to the point where a rescue could be made.
“I would imagine, just based on some of the very experienced officers that were initiating the firefight, that they made the best effort they could to try to identify that someone was in the vehicle,” Fields said.
“Our firefighters were doing everything,” he said.
A spokesperson for Heche had no comment Thursday. A representative for Homer Laffoon, Heche’s oldest son, also declined to comment.