The body of James Briscoe, 41, was found April 27 in the basement of a house at 128 S. Irwin St. that burned Dec. 23, a day after Briscoe was last seen. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF

Family to bury man found in burned-out home: ‘There’s foul play all over that house’

As family members prepare to bury James “Jimmy” Briscoe, they are no closer to learning how the man’s body went undiscovered for four months in the basement of a house burned by a suspicious fire.

“There’s foul play all over that house,” his sister Donna Briscoe said Friday.

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Donna Briscoe said family members were contacted once by an investigator after James Briscoe’s body was found April 27, in the house at 128 S. Irwin St. But family members haven’t heard since from fire, police or coroner’s office officials, she said.

James Briscoe was seen last on Dec. 22. The fire was reported the next day.

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“The pain is just unexplainable. Jimmy’s my big brother,” Donna Briscoe said. “I lost a part of me.”

Services for James Briscoe will be from 3-5 p.m. Tuesday at W.E. Lusain Funeral Home, 2455 Stanley Ave., Dayton. He will be buried Wednesday next to his grandparents in Woodland Cemetery, his sister Donna Briscoe said.

The body of James Briscoe, 41, was discovered after a man dialed 911 and told a dispatcher he had stumbled across something while looking for his dog that had wandered into the burned house.

“I went to the basement and it’s a dead body,” the caller, identified as John Metcalf, told a dispatcher.

The Montgomery County Coroner’s office confirmed the body found in the basement was Briscoe’s, but has not completed a final report.

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The Dayton Fire Department’s investigative unit is looking into the fire’s cause and origin. Dayton police and the coroner’s office are investigating the circumstances related to the body discovered in the house, a Dayton spokeswoman said Friday.

Eva-Joy Humphreys, who said she was James Briscoe’s longtime girlfriend, said, “I don’t understand why the fire department didn’t find his body during the fire on the 23rd.”

According to the city, fire administration reviewed the actions taken during the course of this incident. This news organization requested the results of any internal inquiry.

“Reviewing the actions of our crews at structure fires are routine and seldom result in a written report. A written report did not arise from this structure fire, therefore, we don’t have anything responsive,” wrote Dayton spokeswoman Toni Bankston.

Dayton Fire Department incident reports obtained by this news organization show a 911 call came in at 6:01 a.m. on Dec. 23.

The crews of Engine 2 and Ladder Truck 18 were initially delayed, the reports note, because crews were given an incorrect address, which turned out to be about a block away from the fire.

At 6:08, Engine 2 was first on the scene and found “fully involved heavy fire and smoke in basement and attic.” The Ladder Truck 18 arrived a minute later to the house, “boarded and apparently vacant,” its report noted.

Crews from the engine and ladder truck found a back door to the house open and made entry through heavy smoke.

The heat increased as crews made their way deeper into the house, according to the Ladder Truck 18 narrative written by Capt. Christopher Kinzeler.

Despite multiple attempts, firefighters couldn’t find a way into the basement, according Kinzeler’s account as well as the Engine 2 account from Lt. Matthew Quick Jr.

With the ceiling beginning to bank down on the firefighters and fire sandwiching them from the attic and the basement below, commanders pulled everyone out of the house.

The reports provide no indication how long firefighters were inside the structure.

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Kinzeler in his report questioned whether the only access to the basement in the house was through a floor-level door.

The reports show 14 firefighters altogether were sent to the scene in eight trucks. Two medic units also responded.

The reports indicate the fire — listed as suspicious and starting in a “crawl space, substructure space” — caused no deaths or injuries.

No indication is given in the reports how the incident was later investigated.

Loved ones are looking for answers. They want to know how James Briscoe got into the basement, how the fire started — and ultimately how he died.

Humphreys wonders how the fire department can report the fire as starting in the basement if they couldn’t make it to the basement. Or if investigators did later make it to the basement, why her boyfriend’s body wasn’t found then.

“How did the fire department overlook that?” she said. “Don’t they have a protocol that they have to adhere to?”

By 11:35 a.m. on Dec. 23, all the fire apparatus had cleared the scene and returned to service.

And James Briscoe’s body was apparently in the basement, still waiting to be recovered.

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