The new year promptly introduced perhaps the most unusual and unexpected development and surprise to Jacksonville, other than the improbable playoff appearance by our beloved Jaguars, in the form of an arctic front that saw the City suspend many operations due to dangerous weather conditions occurring on Wednesday, 3 January. With the threat of 'black ice' endangering our local bridges and roadways, and with possible snow flurries and daytime 'highs' reaching the balmy nether-regions of the low 20s, a partial activation of our city's EOC was initiated in order to cope with the potential increase in emergency call volume for that day. With the worst of the storm threat abating the very next day, most city agencies and the EOC as well, returned to a normal schedule of operations.
The last full week of this month witnessed the arrival of the single LARGEST Recruit Class in the history of the Department: 91 new firefighters arrived and began their initial training and orientation at the Fire/Rescue Training Academy. Congratulations to all and good luck in what will most assuredly be an exciting and rewarding career.
The response for a residential structure fire within our Beaches community can illicit a shudder and a substantial amount of apprehension for the dispatched first responders; the tight and relatively narrow streets coupled with the close proximity of residential properties to one another can present a considerable challenge for suppression objectives. The aforementioned statement was once again prominently on display on Friday evening, the 26th of January just after 5 PM when units were dispatched to 900 First Street intersecting Pine in Neptune Beach for a residential structure fire. The first arriving crews confirmed that a large (well over 3,000 square feet) two story woodframe residence had heavy smoke and flames visible from just beneath the roofline, with gusty ocean breezes fanning the flames and threatening nearby exposures, the latter being witnessed in the form of several homes separated by a mere six feet of property lines from the actual fire. Quickly gaining entry into the ground floor area, firefighters discovered that the stairwell was boarded up thus impeding a direct approach to the second floor. Undeterred, the crews retreated and reassembled in the back of the structure, using the rear stairs to make their way to the second floor and eventually to the area of origin of the fire. A Second Alarm was sounded to ensure sufficient resources would be available on scene to protect the fragile exposures nearby but, thankfully, the firefighters soon had stopped the forward progress of the blaze and the incident was called under control after nearly thirty minutes of skillful supression initiatives. Command would subsequently summon the State Fire Marshal to investigate the circumstances surrounding the event, and damage estimates were initially believed to be in the realm of over $100,000, with the good news from the scene being that no injuries were reported.
And...before the month of January could officially bid 'adieu,' a Third Alarm early Wednesday morning, 31 January, served as a final reminder that the month along with the beginning of this new year of 2018 has been a very busy and active timeframe for structure fires. Shortly after 4 AM, firefighters arriving on scene at 1949 Blanding Boulevard reported heavy smoke venting from various areas of a strip mall, with the main culprit seemingly one particular storefront area belonging to a business called 'Orange Tree Furniture.' The crews proceeded to perform an aggressive interior attack coupled with specific roof objectives all intended to vent as much of the tenebrific product as possible and reveal the potential seat of the fire. With smoke continuing to emanate from various areas of the building, Command quickly called for additional units in order to deliver much needed manpower for the myriad of incident objectives, ultimately culminating in a Third Alarm assignment assembled on the fireground and the corresponding 60 odd firefighters. The incident, after nearly one hour of difficult, painstaking suppression work, was finally called under control and the State Fire Marshal called to the scene to perform the investigation. Although the Orange Tree business sustained significant smoke and water damage, the neighboring enterprises throughout the strip mall managed to escape major issues due to the concerted and professional efforts of the first responders on scene.