A very exciting event is on tap for this month, as the Fire/Rescue Department's 'Firefighter of the Year' is scheduled to be presented with the award in a ceremony scheduled for Saturday, April 28, at the Stockton Street Union Hall. More specific details, such as exact time of the event and other particulars, will be forthcoming at a later date.
Perhaps one of the more memorable fires in the history of the Jacksonville Fire/Rescue Department occurred early Saturday morning, April 7th, just before 2 AM. Although the fire itself, as devastating as it was, may not be deemed worthy by seasoned veterans as being listed or mentioned in the same breath as the Steuart Tank Farm Fire or the more recent Pecan Park Flea Market Third Alarm or recycling plant blaze, the location of this fire coupled with other ancillary issues, combined to create a highly charged scenario unlike any other. The location, 8464 Beach Boulevard, proved to be the Jacksonville Humane Society, home to approximately 300 cats and dogs. Notified by a passerby that 'flames are coming out of the rear of the building,' the dispatch was subsequently verified by the first arriving unit, Engine 28. With blustery wind conditions rapidly fanning the flames that would soon breach through the roof in excess of 30 feet high, firefighters frantically fought the elements, flames and the race against time to extricate as many animals as possible from a horrible fate while extinguishing the fire and protecting any exposures, in what would soon become a second alarm fire with over 70 emergency responders on scene. The typical aggressive interior attack performed by the Department had to soon be abandoned, as a partial roof collapse led to one firefighter receiving minor injuries and showed the necessity for establishing a defensive posture and the raising of ladder pipes to suffocate the flames. In the midst of the aforementioned activity, firefighters continued to free as many dogs within the kennel as possible, at times literally cutting open cages and tossing the animals to safety, immediately returning to continue the aforementioned procedure. The fire was called 'under control' after approximately 50 minutes, but not before the main administrative building along with a laundry room and medical area were completely destroyed, in essence rendering the entire compound to be classified as a 'total loss.' Although the adoption and isolation kennels were saved, along with the dogs contianed therein, the previously mentioned sections that were destroyed housed a great number of cats, virtually all unfortunately killed in the blaze. The cause of the fire was deemed 'undetermined,' as the damage was so extensive to render much of the evidentiary material useless, although investigators did focus their attention on the laundry room as the most likely point of origin. Damage estimates were deemed to be well over $1 million dollars.
With the Brush Fires in southern Georgia providing plenty of smoke and haze here in Duval County, the level of awareness for the potential of brush fires to pop up here within our city has certainly increased dramatically. Fortunately, so far, small fires have been the norm and the Department has been more than capable of responding to these scenarios before any dramatic escalation can occur. Hopefully some much needed rain will descend upon our region and provide some relief from both the drought and for those battling the blazes north of our border.
April closed out with a final tragedy early Sunday morning, April 29th, as firefighters responded to a house fire at 4632 Shelby Avenue and discovered the lifeless body of a 73 year old woman in her bed, apparently overcome by smoke. Although firefighters encountered heavy fire and smoke when arriving at the scene just before 5 AM, the fire was quickly subdued, but all help came too late for the victim who was found in the front bedroom of the single family structure. The cause of the blaze is still under investigation, but initial scene assessment did seem to pinpoint a piece of furniture in the living room as a possible point of origin.