Fort Scott, Kansas is a typical Midwestern community where families have lived for generations and, like so many other towns across America, crime has broken down the sense of peace and calm for local residents.
On Oct. 13, 2011 at 9:51 pm, Bourbon County Emergency Dispatch received a 9-1-1 call. A male caller could be heard hysterically, and unintelligibly, screaming about a house fire. The operator asked, "Sir?" and "Hello?" several times, but there was no response.
A short while later, a second 9-1-1 call was made. The caller identified himself as Brent Bollinger. Bollinger screamed that “his wife was in the house and he had no way to get her out”. The Kansas Highway Patrol, Bourbon County Sheriff's Office, Fort Scott Fire Department, and supporting rural fire departments were dispatched to the scene.
As the 9-1-1 dispatch center was taking the second call, Captain Dale Bollinger and a lieutenant with the Fort Scott Fire Department were preparing to leave for the fire scene. Captain Bollinger knew the location of the fire very well. It was where his son Brent, his daughter-in-law Brenna, and his grandson Bryson lived. As Captain Bollinger and his lieutenant departed for the scene, he called other family members and told them get to the house to check on Brent and his family.
Upon arriving at the scene, Captain Bollinger saw Brent outside and learned he had already taken Bryson next door to the home of Mary Bollinger, Brent's grandmother. Brent had been running across the yard screaming "Brenna's in there". He said he had gotten gas on his clothes while cutting wood earlier in the day and had lit a cigarette, igniting the gas and starting the fire.
Brent’s uncle had already entered the house and yelled for Brent and Brenna but received no response. He couldn’t get upstairs because of the intense smoke, heat, and flames so he exited the burning house.
Captain Bollinger stated to investigators he could see fire in the window of the bedroom that belonged to his grandson but there were no flames coming out anywhere else in the house. He broke down the locked front door and with nozzle and hose in hand, entered the house. He could see the stairwell and a significant amount of smoke. Captain Bollinger went to the top of the steps and down the hallway. It was then that he made a tragic discovery.
In Bryson’s bedroom was the body of Brenna Bollinger.
Brent Bollinger survived the fire but suffered burns to 69% of his body. Bryson, Brent’s son, had second and third degree burns on his head, face and neck. The child was flown to Shriners Children's Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio with critical burns while Brent was transported to Mercy Hospital in Fort Scott. Brenna Bollinger lost her life in the fire.
Later that evening, Rose Rozmiarek, chief investigator with the Kansas State Fire Marshal's office, was notified about the situation. Rozmiarek, a law enforcement veteran with more than 30 years’ experience, is a specialist in fire and explosion investigations. “I get a call from the Kansas Highway Patrol and they’re telling me about a house fire in Southeast, KS and that there is a fatality involved,” Rozmiarek recalls. “Because there is a fatality involved, we will respond immediately, no matter what the hours of day - night or morning.” She immediately sent a fire investigator to assist in determining the cause and origin of the fire.
Once he arrived at the Bollinger home, the fire investigator began taking photographs of the scene, taking close-up photos of anything of significance in the yard, the condition of the house and any fire or burn patterns. Inside the house, he noted smoke damage and deposits on the ceiling in the living room, the dining room and in the kitchen. Water used to fight the fire was found in the basement.
Brent Bollinger had told first responders he had been using a chainsaw to cut firewood and spilled gasoline on his pants. When he was in the house, he said he had lit a cigarette, igniting his pants. Significant fire damage appeared to indicate the fire originated in Bryson’s bedroom however fire damage and debris in the upstairs bathroom and hallway were not consistent with Brent Bollinger’s explanation of how the fire had started. The initial findings puzzled fire investigators and they knew that they needed a specialist to solve this case.
After describing the burn patterns and fire damage, Rozmiarek was contacted and she was asked to bring along her partner to determine whether or not the fire that killed Brenna Bollinger was accidental or intentional. Rozmiarek and her partner, K-9 Tana, jumped into their vehicle and headed to the scene.
“I get a call from the Kansas Highway Patrol and they’re telling me about a house fire in Southeast, KS and that there is a fatality involved,” Rozmiarek recalls. “Because there is a fatality involved, we will respond immediately. No matter what the hours of day - night or morning.”