December, of course, means Christmas, and with that most festive of holidays come many fire safety tips to make the jolly season a truly joyous occasion. Christmas Trees, in particular, seem to generate many fire safety related questions and with that, here now are a few reminders to help prevent unfortunate mishaps in connection with the aforementioned topic:
When choosing a live tree, make sure that it is fresh and green. The needles should not drop off when pulled or when the tree is shaken, nor should the needles bend or break. Check to ensure that the bottom of the trunk is sticky with resin. Always use a stand that holds at least a gallon of water, and check for sufficient amounts of water daily. Make sure the tree is well supported and keep it out of the path of traffic, away from doors and, especially, away from any source of heat such as a fireplace, radiator, or portable heater. These and other tips for a safe holiday season can be obtained via informative pamphlets and similar printed materials from our Fire Prevention Division at 515 North julia Street.
For one unfortunate family, the start of the 'Yuletide Season' was less than cheery: units responded to the report of a structure fire just after 1:30 p.m. on Monday, 3 December, and confirmed that a single story, single family home was fully involved with flames already breaching through the rear windows of the structure. Although the fire was soon extinguished, the resulting damage was so severe as to render the home a total loss. The family, comprised of 9 members with 7 being children, received immediate support from the Red Cross but will have to find a new home during this Christmas season. The cause of the fire was deemed accidental, as the woman explained to investigators she had been cooking and 'thought I turned the stove off to run to the store to pick up something.' When she returned, in less than 15 minutes, she discovered the horrible inferno previously mentioned. The good news, if possible, is that no injuries were reported from the scene.
Unquestionably the largest incident of the year, in both scope and novelty, occurred at about 6 a.m. on Thursday morning at a construction site for a multi-level garage immediately adjacent to the Berkman Plaza II. There, located on East Bay Street directly in front of the Police Memorial Building and to the east of the high-rise construction project, the aforementioned six story parking complex collapsed during the pouring phase of over 670 square yards of concrete. The pancake collapse summoned first due units from Fire Station #1 who, upon arrival, were witness to Command immediately activating Mass Casualty protocols to a Level III MCI and simultaneously issuing a Second Alarm. Miraculously, life-threatening or critical injuries were not reported at the scene during triage; nonetheless, 14 patients, all in stable condition, were transported to area hospitals with an additional 9 victims (suffering from minor injuries) taken by a quickly summoned JTA bus to Shands for appropriate treatment and eventual release. Unfortunately, the news was not all good, as one construction worker was soon identified as being unaccounted for. The ensuing search and rescue efforts for the missing individual, involving many components of the assembled Unified Command including Urban Search and Rescue Team(s), K-9 units from both within the Department and brought to the scene from Tampa Bay and Orlando, and many other aspects of these concerted efforts are well documented on other websites devoted to news content, thus making another thorough listing of these activities superfluous. Everyone is encouraged to seek out the detailed and specific account of the operation at any favorite news site, as the event represents a truly remarkable example of the amount of coordination required in such a laborious, manpower intensive evolution. The Department does wish to extend its heartfelt condolences to the surviving family members of the deceased: a tragic and incredibly sad loss in what can only be termed a horrific accident the likes of which Jacksonville has never witnessed before and, hopefully, never will again.
The month of December 2007 simply refused to leave without providing the men and women of the Department with yet another set of formidable challenges, beginning on Wednesday, December 19 shortly after 2 p.m. A series of explosions, coupled with fireballs and huge, thick clouds of black smoke, rocked the grounds of 'T2 Labs,' a chemical company located on the city's north side, more specifically at 3041 Faye Road. The incident, unlike any witnessed in this city before, claimed the lives of 4 individuals working at the company and forced firefighters within the 3rd Alarm assignment to muster every ounce of skill and courage available in order to combat the multitude of dangerous tasks affiliated with the incident. As mentioned previously for the parking garage collapse, exhaustive coverage of this incident is readily available at any news website for anyone desiring more information. Without question, most within the Department began to wonder 'what could possibly happen next?'
Tragically, the answer to the question of 'what could happen next' did not take long to appear. Saturday morning, December 22, just before 8:30 a.m., units responded to the report of a single family, single story structure fire at 864 South Shores Road. As Engine 12 arrived at the scene they could observe dark clouds of smoke wafting through the front door and windows of the home, with heavy smoke lifting into the early morning sky from the back of the house. An adult male was seen on the front steps, covered in soot and desperately trying to enter into the home: in fact, the attempts were so frantic that the man had to be physically restrained in order to keep him outside of the dwelling. 9 firefighters were soon involved in searching for the adult male's female companion, who was eventually discovered in a back bathroom, removed from the home and transported to Baptist Hospital where she was soon thereafter pronounced dead. The investigation began to focus on the rear patio area as a possible point of origin, with this inescapable tragic fact noted by investigators: a working smoke detector was nowhere to be found.
Despite these emergencies, the Department was not quite finished with the month of December or, the month was not quite finished with the Department. Sunday morning December 23, just around 5 a.m., units were summoned to the Hendricks Road Baptist Church near Emerson and Hendricks, with a report of a structure fire to the main sanctuary called in by a passer-by. Upon arrival, Command in the form of Fire 4 immediately issued a Second Alarm and before long over 70 firefighters were fighting a raging fire that sought to destroy the over 10,000 square foot sanctuary component on the church compound. Here too, media coverage is extensive and readily available at anyone's favorite on-line news site. As of Wednesday, December 26, a cause for this horrific fire had yet to be determined, with officials first having to ensure the safety of those tasked with the actual investigation: the building was deemed to be too structurely unsound following the ordeal to allow anyone to enter into the ruins. Only after solving this dilemma will the search begin for any and all applicable clues.