The month of September proved to be a very busy and taxing period for the entire department. Hurricanes Frances, Ivan and later Jeanne threatened to wreak considerable havoc along the First Coast, with department personnel subsequently placed on alert for appropriate response and levels of readiness.
Unlike those less fortunate areas throughout Florida, Jacksonville was spared the truly destructive path created by these catastrophic forces of nature. Nonetheless, the strength of the storms was felt in our community and the Department as a whole was forced into a real 'emergency operations' scenario.
One of the first approach mechanisms launched in order to properly cope with each impending storm was the 'National Incident Management System,' or 'NIMS,' specifically designed to simulate fireground incident command objectives on a multi-agency level. Within our Fire/Rescue Department's administrative offices, it soon became apparent that our successful overall performance throughout these challenges could be largely attributed to the proper implementation of NIMS. From Planning and Logistics Branch to Finance Sections, each group with corresponding Span of Control was properly identified, staffed and empowered, thus ensuring the smooth flow of information and performance at headquarters throughout each ordeal.
In the 'field' activities were naturally heightened as a result of storm activity, with numerous runs performed as trees and powerlines came crashing down during each storm. On the 26th of September, from 8 AM until 2:45 PM, the Department received over 180 calls during Hurricane Jeanne's initial stages of fury (at that time the storm had already been downgraded to Tropical Storm Jeanne), a strong indication as to what the rest of the day and night would possibly deliver. A comparative figure for the previously mentioned number would be the fact that the entire department receives approximately 400 calls for the entire day, let alone over 180 in a seven hour time frame. Engine 22 had 23 runs during the sampled time period of 8 AM - 2:45 PM, necessitating both Operations Section and Suppression Branch to shift spare-Engine 81 with extra-staffing to provide support for Engine 22. It was tracking and corresponding flexibility of this nature that ensured the best possible results for appropriate response and relief to occur. The additional implementation of approximately 15 heavy-duty front-end loaders and drivers, strategically located at fire stations throughout the city for easy dispatch directly from Emergency Support Function (ESF) 4, paid immediate dividends following the storm's worst thrust, as clean-up and debris removal could begin at the earliest stage feasible. This in turn proved to be beneficial for the JEA utility crews who saw their power restoration efforts greatly enhanced and facilitated by this early intervention. A special 'shout-out' should also go to the Fire Training Academy, as 'Rapid Response Teams' equipped with light vehicles and power tools roamed throughout the city, eagerly accepting every dispatch to any location to remove debris.
There are many interesting and noteworthy aspects found in all of the After-Action Reports from each and every storm encountered in the month of September...far too many to list here. Suffice to say, however, that the common consensus throughout the city was that the Jacksonville Fire/Rescue Department was more than merely 'up' for the task, exceeding expectations on virtually every single level.
Aside from the storm response, there were naturally many typical emergency scenarios covered by the men and women in the field. Among the most noteworthy:
*** off Southside Boulevard an entire family is transported to Baptist Hospital, in stable condition, due to carbon-monoxide poisoning; the family-owned generator is not properly placed for ventilation to occur, thus allowing for deadly, odorless and colorless fumes to seep into the home. This would lead to consistent local media coverage of the need for proper placement of generators and other generator safety tips, a popular theme throughout the city as many homes remain without power for long periods of time.
*** off Duval West in north Jacksonville, a metallurgical process plant experiences a huge flash fire as heavy paraffin oil ignites and scorches everything within the bay area of the plant; the Second Alarm assignment quickly has the fire under control with only one minor injury to a plant worker reported.
***off St. Augustine Road and, in a separate incident, off Greenland Road as well, two industrial businesses experience fires free of injuries but relatively high in property damage. Although the structure found on Greenland Road remains very much intact, with a great stop performed on the fire itself by responding units, the contents of the fiberglass processing plant are seriously encumbered by soot and water damage. The St. Augustine Road fire, an automotive paint and body shop, manages to completely gut the interior of the business as well as severely damage roof components.
Boy, what a busy month! The above mentioned are, of course, but a few of the many incidents responded to by the troops in the field. The Public Information Office itself could list yet a few other significant (from a media coverage-perspective, that is) incidents, but this narrative appears too long already!
Next month, October, promises to be 'hurricane free' (let's keep our fingers crossed...after all, the season doesn't officially end until the end of November)so we'll focus on some other events that will be prominently featured within the Department. First and foremost among these our Annual Fallen Firefighter Memorial along with Fire Prevention Week activities.