Happy New Year to one and all! So far the new year has brought about a number of 'non-emergency' activity that has been overwhelming many within the Department in a time consuming fashion. In preparation for 'Fire East,' the Video Services Section has been feverishly working on creating a DVD presentation for Lion Apparel's new Firefighter Recovery Harness, or Drag Rescue Device, that will be used by the company for training purposes throughout the world. EOC will play host to a series of Incident Command training sessions during the mid-January weeks and a new round of extensive Physical Agility examinations for potential new recruits is on tap at the Fire/Rescue Academy.
During the early morning hours of January 19, at approximately 3:30 AM and during what would prove to be one of the coldest temperatures of the young year, JFRD units responded to a house fire at 5721 Doeboy Street in the city's northwest quadrant. A single family, single story concrete block structure was fully involved, with flames shooting through the roof at the front of the house. Although the fire was extinguished in less than 10 minutes, firefighters made a tragic discovery during their interior attack: a deceased black female, lying on the floor merely feet away from the living room and actual point of origin of the fire. Two kerosene space heaters in the living room seemed to be involved in the blaze, a third space heater found in a nearby hallway as well. It appeared as if no working smoke detectors were within the home, and miscellaneous combustible items of every imagineable constitution were strewn about the floors of the house. Neighbors reported the fire and indicated at the scene that the victim had asked for matches and kerosene prior to the onset of darkness, in essence just that evening. Due to the burglar bars obstructing every window and door, with the fire itself raging in the front living room and engulfing the entrance, the victim had no means of escape and was doomed to succumb to smoke inhalation. The intensity of the heat was best exemplified in that firefighters required no forcible entry to gain access into the home, as the front door gave way to the slightest push due to the fact the hinges had been melted off completely. An avoidable tragedy most assuredly, but also a reminder to follow space heater safety practices and ensure that a working smoke detector is in place, along with a practiced and well known escape route from the home in the event of fire.
Before January could bid 'adieu,' a litany of events took place that would keep the Department in the headlines throughout Monday, January 30th. Early Monday morning, the aforementioned date of January 30th, at half past midnight, units were called to a trailer fire at 13729 Coral Drive, near the ICW and San Pablo. Engine 55 later confirmed that the flames were so intense the fire could be seen from atop the ICW bridge on Atlantic Boulevard. During the nearly twenty minutes it took the assembled crews to bring the raging fire under control, strategic measures were simultaneously deployed to protect adjacent exposures. The nearby trailers, merely 25 to 30 feet away, along with the burning structure itself, were older models constructed of aluminum and measuring under 1,000 square feet each. Despite the arduous firefighting work and eventual successful extinguishment of the blaze, all help came far too late for a 28 year old white male, found dead in the back of the mobile home in what appeared to be a bedroom. Although local Fire Investigators were joined by representatives from the State as well as Homicide Detectives from JSO, the damage was so severe that any evidence was rendered into nothing more than twisted metal and ash. The cause remains undetermined, with a corresponding point of origin yet to be identified.
The day was barely 9 hours old when yet another call went out for JFRD response, this time to the St. Paul's School located at 2609 Park Street in the vicinity of St. Vincent's Hospital. Apparently more than 10 children began suddenly, and simultaneously, to complain about nausea, dizziness and headaches, with several of the kids vomiting in the process. Among the units arriving at the scene was the Department's HAZMAT Team, and a coordinated evacuation of the school was provided. An initial sweep (utilizing Ray-Meters to check for Carbon Monoxide and DIGI-Alert Devices intended for WMD components, such as Pepper Spray, etc.) of the building by the team, beginning with the classrooms on the Third Floor were the incidents took place and eventually culminating with virtually the entire school complex, revealed nothing noteworthy or out of the ordinary to the responders. During interviews with the school staff, it was learned that the students had been discussing 'cloves' during class, with samples of the distinct and aromatic product distributed to the children. Naturally the thought process was that the children had eaten the product, but a quick phone call to Poison Control led to the conclusion that the symptoms evidenced would not correspond with 'clove consumption.' The Health Department was notified to begin a more thorough investigation, and the Department ended up transporting 9 children, ages 11 through 12, to area hospitals with the minor symptoms described previously. The school was scheduled to remain closed the following day in order to facilitate the testing expected to be performed by the Health Department.
The evacuation of the school and corresponding MCI Level I transport scenario had barely concluded when the report of what would prove to be the biggest event of the day, and quite possibly of the year to come, was dispatched by Fire Communications. An explosion at UNISON Industries, located at 7575 Baymeadows Way and reported at 10:45 AM, resulted in the immediate transport of an injured worker (non-life threatening injuries) to St. Luke's by Rescue 28. A canister containing, among other things, a gas known as Krypton 85 was the culprit behind the explosion. The gas in question, however, contains radioactive levels that can be detected by a metering device known as a 'RAD-Alert.' The levels detected by the emergency responders in the immediate vicinity of the explosion were so high that an evacuation notice was given to every Unison employee within the building, with subsequent strategic planning leading to Decontamination and transport plans to local hospitals of over 40 employees from the business in question. These actions and deliberations resulted in the activation of an MCI Level III and put into effect multiple protocols for inter-agency cooperation. Soon, more than 20 ambulances from private providers and JTA buses were on scene to lend assistance, joining in with other agencies responding to the scene such as the Red Cross, FBI, Department of Health, OSHA and many others. In addition, a radiological expert from the Mayo Group arrived to provide invaluable expertise and advice throughout the incident. As events began to unfold, it was soon discovered that the radioactive product in question was a 'Beta' Source. This meant the most severe exposure that any one individual could have received at the time of the incident, given quantity and circumstances, was the familiar and non-lethal equivalent of a dosage of x-rays. A 'dry' decontamination, removing only clothing, would therefore result in an immediate reduction of contamination levels by at least 80%. As the levels of radioactivity with each person from Unison Industries were checked, another revelation was soon made: the numbers being received were so low as to be virtually non-existent. The product, now exposed to the outdoors and the corresponding atmospheric conditions, was rapidly dissipating from each individual. With a number of 200 CPM (counts per minute) considered safe, values from 30 to 60 CPM were now being consistently measured in each case. Soon 'dry' DECON-measures were deemed unnecessary, and after approximately 3 hours employees were allowed to retrieve their belongings and depart the hot zone. The final 'tally' did reveal that 15 individuals received transport to area hospitals, but each case was completely unrelated to the incident and resulted from more common maladies such as high/low blood pressure, hypertension, etc. The FBI's threat assessment also determined that this had indeed been an industrial accident with no further investigative measures required. All in all, a wonderful exercise in mutual aid and inter-agency cooperation, with an opportunity for management to test the effectiveness of the Incident Command System during a 'real' event. Most were in agreement that the overall outcome and performance by all responding agencies can be viewed as a success.
Whew! What a way to end the month!