The month of October began with our typical department activities for this early phase of autumn; with both Fire Prevention Week and Fallen Firefighter Memorial Services. This year's Fire Prevention Week activities were organized in a slightly different fashion, as the department held events on six separate days at six separate locations. From the Avenues Mall on the southside to Fort Caroline Road in Arlington, the event skipped the one location approach used in years past (such as the Academy or Kid's Kampus at Metropolitan Park) and created an environment best suited for maximum exposure.
Fallen Firefighter Memorial proved to be a moving experience again, as this year's event in particular featured more representation from our municipal leaders than ever before. A special thanks to Bennie Seth for going the 'extra-mile' in ensuring that everyone at City Hall received a personal invitation to the event, certainly a major reason for the unprecedented turn-out witnessed that morning of the 8th of October.
The morning of the 11th of October saw an early appearance by members of the staff at the Adam's Mark hotel where, together with Mayor Peyton and Doctor Scott Baker, a newfangled initiative was launched to return Jacksonville to prominence as the leader in pre-hospital emergency care. The 'AED' program, designed to facilitate the placement of easy-to-use Automatic External Defibrillators in places of assembly and elsewhere, has already garnered much attention.The National Board of the American Heart Association, for example, utilized the breakfast occassion to present a plaque recognizing Jacksonville as Florida's 'First Heart Ready City.'
So far in October, for emergency response, one incident does stick out above all others: Thursday afternoon, October 7th, Engine and Ladder 21 were summoned to an apartment fire on Auburn Road. The subsequent radio traffic of 'W2 - Signal 7' heard over the air shortly after the arrival of the units immediately raised a few eyebrows. Further investigation revealed a truly unique situation; an elderly deceased woman, lying on the floor of her apartment's living room, had apparently succumbed to smoke inhalation. The oddity of the event was found in the fact that 21's crew found neither smoke nor hot spots in the apartment. The fire had self-extinguished, apparently from lack of oxygen, leaving behind only a charred couch with some markings on the wall immediately behind the furniture. The victim had small soot remains around the nostril region, with some slight blistering on the shoulder. The truly strange aspect of the incident was not so much the self-extinguishment, but rather the ancillary issues surrounding the incident. Adjacent to the victim's apartment was a vacant unit being prepped by maintenance workers for potentially new renters. These workers noticed soot around the door frame of what would prove to be the victim's apartment upon showing up for work that Thursday afternoon. Opening the door to that soot-covered dwelling, the workers saw the charred couch and immediately recognized that a fire had occurred inside the area, prompting the 9-1-1 call. Station 21's crew didn't even have to perform forcible entry and, during the initial stages of the investigation, it was discovered by the crew that all of the neighboring apartment residents, with four units (two on top, two on the bottom) assigned to each compound, had been completely unaware of the fire that claimed the life of the elderly resident. This in spite of the fact that the residents of the occupied unit immediately below the victim had been in their respective apartment virtually uninterrupted for more than 24 hours. This proved to be but merely one strange scenario in what would turn into an even more bizarre situation. A few days after the incident, following the appropriate story in the local newspaper, the PIO world within JFRD would be over-inundated with phone calls from Toronto and Philadelphia, from a self-appointed watch-group concerned with 'human spontaneous combustion.' Apparently the novelty of the fire's self-extinguishing properties was misinterpreted as some form of the aforementioned 'urban legend.' Apparently these groups are convinced of the regularity and veracity of 'self-combustion' and offered to gladly provide appropriate literature; a gesture that was offered once our local event was properly explained as being unrelated to their respective 'cause.' The promise was made, however, to report to them any event that may have that appearance of 'self-combustion' in the future. So 'word up' to everyone in the field: be on the look-out and let the PIOs know should you experience something that may be remotely related to 'spontaneous self-combustion.'