The Super Bowl was certainly a resounding success not only for the entire city and the thousands of volunteers who ensured that this area, 'Where Florida Begins,' would sparkle under a truly global spotlight, but also proved to be a showcase event for our Fire/Rescue Department to shine as well.
That the Department would meet and exceed all expectations came as no surprise. The fashion through which the men and women of the JFRD proved to be adaptable, in light of the many challenges that an event of the magnitude of the Super Bowl can present, was nothing short of stellar and remarkable. From the expected exceptional performance of the MED and Bike Teams to the leadership skills of the Branch Headquarters and organizational quality found at the Base Camp, every aspect was handled with pride, professionalism and dedication. Aside from the obvious walk-up patients throughout the festival area experiencing chest pains or other forms of discomfort, the event proved to be relatively uneventful from an emergency response point-of-view. The aforementioned flexibility and adaptability within the department, however, occurred during the opening stages of the game at Alltel Stadium. Malfunctioning sewage lines threatened to flood major portions of the venue, a truism that was avoided when Fire/Rescue units were called upon to provide assistance. Special pumps were brought in from nearby Station #4 and the worst of the water-damage was brought under control. Although some sewage problems remained within the stadium compound, the situation would have become a lot worse had it not been for the swift and decisive action of the firefighters who responded.
As previously mentioned, the event itself proved to be relatively free from headline-inducing emergency responses, with one notable and tragic exception. Two officers from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, assigned to a Marine unit, were injured when their vessel struck a piece of pylon from the old Fuller-Warren Bridge during preparations for the fireworks event on Thursday evening, February 3rd. One of the officers suffered severe injuries, but both were tended to in a timely and exceptional response by Marine 3, followed by ground transport to Shands Hospital by Rescues 10 and 13. All in all, over 400 patient contacts were reported throughout the event timeline.
Outside of the Super Bowl venue it was 'business as usual,' with house fires and traffic accidents constituting the majority of the emergency calls. For example, on Saturday, the 5th of February, JFRD units were dispatched to a two-story single family structure fire on Barberie. The stucco over block construction house was fully involved when units arrived, resulting in over $100,000 in damages to the structure and $50,000 to the contents when all was said and done. Fire was rising from the ground floor, with point of origin of the fire the front dining room, and curling up the eaves to encompass the front of the second floor. The fire was not deemed suspicious in nature.
Perhaps a more unusual timeframe was the weekend of 12 through 13 February. At approximately 7:30 PM, JFRD units were called to a major traffic accident at JTB and St. John's Bluff, specifically the northbound lanes of St. John's Bluff. The accident, likely stemming from excessive speed from one car and subsequent crash involving several vehicles, led to an MCI Level 1 with seven patients transported to area hospitals, with one a trauma alert and flown via LifeFlight to Shands. A mere four hours later the city experienced the second MCI Level 1of the night, as 9 patients required transport following a shooting incident at a club located on Soutel and Norfolk. Then, early Sunday morning at 3:30 AM, a devastating apartment fire off Monument Road that resulted in one fatality, with three separate apartments virtually destroyed. Had it not been for the successful operation of smoke detectors throughout the apartment complex involved in the fire, more lives would have been almost certainly lost in this raging inferno.
After all of that activity, it would seem that the Jacksonville Fire/Rescue Department is most assuredly back to 'business as usual' following the unique excitement brought about by the Super Bowl!
As the month of February comes to a close, one last significant event remains to be experienced by friends and family of our extended Public Safety community: the annual Guns 'N' Hoses Boxing Extravaganza! Once again, firefighters will square off against police officers in a charity boxing event that has become one of the greatest single sporting events held in our city. Having personally been involved on the production side of the event from the earliest days, back when it was first held in the small yet quaint atmosphere of the Morocco Shrine Temple, to the new venue at the gigantic Downtown Arena (following a period with the gracious hosts at the University of North Florida), I can honestly say that the growth of the event has been an incredible sight to behold. Congratulations to all involved, in particular Robbie Freitas, for without his exuberant drive this event would have never been possible and, obviously, to the men and women who have fought so courageously over the years inside that 'squared circle.' I'm sure it'll be a blast on Friday, February 25th; as it has been in the past and will be, each and every year to come.
Sadly, before the month of February could come to a close, several tragic and deadly incidents grabbed headlines throughout our local media. To begin, a two-story fully involved structure fire on 2203 Moncrief Road had firefighters scrambling to protect adjacent exposures during the early morning (or extreme late night, depending on your perspective) hours. Shortly after 3:30 AM that Saturday morning, firefighters arrived at the aforementioned address and discovered flames leaping from the two-story wooden structure; in fact, the flames were so voluminous that they could be spotted from a great distance by additional units arriving to the scene from along I-95, as the actual physical location of the inferno just happened to be near the over-pass. To further compound matters, strong winds were threatening to involve two adjacent and similar in construction homes, as a mere 5 to 7 feet separated these additional buildings immediately located to the east and north-east of the burning house. Through the extraordinary efforts of everyone involved, the fire was brought under control without even a char mark on one structure (north-east), though the eastern adjacent home did suffer some facade charring and significant burning of exterior lattice-work. The fully involved home itself saw the rear second floor porch on the eastern side collapse from the extensive heat and flame, thus leaving 9 people from this 'boarding-room' house displaced and necessitating the involvement of the Red Cross. The cause of the fire was deemed undetermined by investigators at the scene.
Sunday, February 27th, was 'welcomed' within the public safety field by an early morning dispatch involving a jack-knifed semi-truck on I-95 south near Golfair. Although only one patient required transport with minor injuries, the subsequent back-up of traffic would eventually contribute to one of the most horrific accidents in recent memory. Just before 9 AM that morning, as traffic was coming to a standstill along I-95 due to the aforementioned wreck, a Canadian tour bus filled with 53 people, among them 49 senior high school aged students, failed to recognize that traffic ahead had indeed come to a virtual stop. The bus driver's reflexes came too late and the large vehicle slammed into several passenger vehicles in front of it, creating a devastating chain reaction that would involve seven vehicles. With 8 total patients requiring transport, an MCI Level 1 was immediately called bringing multiple units to the scene to perform, among many tasks, extrication on one vehicle in particular along with the expected activities of triage and subsequent transport. One patient perished immediately at the scene while another would die a little over 24 hours later at the hospital. The students were all relatively unharmed, however, the howling winds and incessant rain made it soon clear that shelter would be needed for those standing in the mud and muck alongside the highway. Through quick thinking by the Incident Commander, buses were soon organized to gather both the French-speaking students and their respective luggage together and transport same to the airport where sufficient large-sized accommodations could be temporarily found. A make-shift triage site was also established at the airport ticketing area so that additional evaluations could be performed while the students awaited the arrival of a new charter bus from Orlando. After nearly 4 hours the vehicle made its appearance in front of the airport and the students, with their luggage in tow, were loaded up and sent back onto the road for their spring break destination of Miami.
A busy weekend for all involved, undoubtedly, and a weekend that began under a bad sign from the very beginning: late Friday night the police finally achieved their first victory over the firefighters at the annual Guns 'N' Hoses extravaganza. See ya next year.