With the arrival of February comes yet another annual Jacksonville Fire/Rescue Department Awards Ceremony. Scheduled for the early evening of Saturday, February 16 at the Union Hall, the event will witness the unveiling of the 'Firefighter of the Year' (for 2007, naturally) along with other awards and citations, all for exceptional actions within the field of public safety.
The week of February 4 turned into an especially tragic one within the field of emergency fire response, as two fatalities were noted in separate incidents during the aforementioned time frame. On Tuesday, February 5, units responded to a house fire in the 8500 block of Malaga Avenue near Collins Road. Engine 52 arrived at the scene and reported heavy fire and smoke all across the front of the house, with neighbors exclaiming that a woman was trapped inside. Unfortunately, the worst case scenario proved to be applicable as the body of a 39 year old female was found in the front bedroom. The cause of the fire was not immediately known, but investigators were focusing their attention on the kitchen and living room areas of the dwelling. The tragic week came to a conclusion then on Saturday, February 9, when units were disptached to the report of yet another house fire shortly before noon at 2123 Burr Street. Engine 17, in close proximity to that area at time of dispatch, needed only two minutes to make it to the scene and certainly were astounded to see the entire front of the house engulfed in fire. Here, too, as was the case on Malaga Avenue, the first responders were informed that an individual was still trapped inside: in particular, a grandfather was the trapped victim in a rear bedroom, as explained to firefighters by the grandson at the scene. The crews from Engine 17 and Ladder 10 found entry through the rear door difficult, and would soon discover that the difficulty was the result of a large appliance, a freezer, blocking the door. Once again the assistance came too late, as the grandfather was indeed located in the back bedroom, a fatality at the scene. In each of these cases no working smoke detector was either heard or observed by firefighters or investigators working the incident(s).
Congratulations are in order for the many recipients of awards and citations during this year's annual festivities, held Saturday February 16 and, once again, at the Union Hall off Stockton Street. Special accolades go out to 'Chip' George, the winner of the 2007 Firefighter of the Year award. Way to go, Chip!
Following the aforementioned festivity, the Department soon found itself dealing with another round of significant and tragic fires; although the devastation was fortunately relegated solely to property damage, the impact of these events on several people was still quite epic. Just around noon on Tuesday, the 19th of February, units were dispatched to the report of heavy smoke and fire visible from 11690 Beach Boulevard, more specifically a business enterprise called 'House of Lamps and Shades.' The first arriving units confirmed that a significant amount of fire could be seen in the eastern side of the over 17,000 square foot warehouse, just off one of several bay door openings. With roof operations and an attempted interior attack soon thwarted by the rampant progress and advancement of the blaze, literally running along the warehouse wall from east to west, Command immediately suspended the previous strategy and ordered ladder pipes raised, giving a Second Alarm, and soon the entire operation became a primarily defensive posture. Aerial streams were augmented by monitor nozzles located near the retail section of the building, with straight tips used to reach far back into the warehouse and loading dock area to reach the fire. Finding the actual seat of the fire was far too difficult, thus pure volume of over 1,000 gallons per minute from the stingers coupled with the 4,000 gallons per minute provided by the two aerials were needed to subdue the stubborn blaze: as the saying goes, 'big fire - big water.' With wind gusts in excess of 30 mph fueling the scene, firefighters would have to combat the conflagration for over two hours before the fire could be brought under control. When all was said and done, the damage to the business was quite substantial to the tune of many hundreds of thousands of dollars. The cause was soon attributed to a faulty electrical forklift battery charger, in the vicinity of which the business owner had observed the origin of the fire that would eventually become this huge second alarm blaze.
Following that incident, the Department would spend an extremely chilly morning at a Second Alarm apartment fire at the Victoria Park Apartments located at 4083 Sunbeam Road. At approximately 4 a.m., the first due Engine responding (Engine 51) arrived at the scene where Building 8, comprised of 24 1 & 2 bed apartment units, already had severe fire venting through the roof prompting an immediate Second Alarm assignment. With the building evacuated, units soon deployed a sound tactic of a combined attack, utilizing both an interior attack with handlines, then pulling crews out of that sector and mode in order to blast the three story complex with water provided by two aerials. After nearly an hour of continuously alternating these procedings, the fire was finally brought under control but not before over $850,000 in damages had been done to the building and over 30 individuals had been displaced from their homes. The cause, as determined by Department Investigators, was the careless discarding of charcoal remnants from a previous barbeque outing; the coals had been merely placed in a cardboard box and left in one of the breezeways. Red Cross and the management team of the complex were soon actively engaged in finding appropriate shelter for those left without lodging following this unfortunate incident.