'Volunteer Jacksonville' is expected to publicly place into the hands of the Jacksonville Fire/Rescue Department new pet oxygen masks. The procurement of the masks came as a result of extensive fund-raising and community donations. The ceremony and delivery of the masks, scheduled for Tuesday, February 13th and with Director Dan Kleman expected to be in attendance, will take place a Fire Station #1 at 10:30 that morning.
The Department responded to a report of an apartment fire shortly after 1:30 AM on Monday, February 5th, at 2926 Post Street. Both Engine and Ladder 10 confirmed upon arrival that flames and smoke were visible on the left side of the two story building. The building itself was comprised of four apartments, two upstairs and the remaining units directly below. The immediate scene showed that only two of the four apartments were involved, specifically the upstairs and downstairs units on the left side. Complicating matters was the additional information that people were still inside the structure; information obtained by the firefighters from bystanders. During the primary search of the impacted units, the upstairs apartment window of the non-involved dwelling opened revealing an adult male and female. Ladder 10 immediately raised a ground ladder and set about to assist the woman. Once she got onto the ladder, unfortunately, panic set in and during her brief struggle both her and the firefighter providing assistance tumbled from the ladder and feel 12 feet to the ground. The woman was transported to Shands, the firefighter sustained only minor injuries. The other man in the window was also assisted out of the apartment, this time a complete success with treatment and subsequent release occurring at the scene. The fire was extinguished without any unusual incident, and investigators found that an electrical space heater in the front bedroom of the downstairs apartment was to blame. Damage estimates were still unavailable pending the final completion of the investigation.
Combat scenarios continued to dominate the news throughout this month, beginning with an incredible story that transpired when a single shot investigative assignment for a report of 'smoke visible' at 1612 Pearl Street on Friday, February 9th, turned into a tale of rescue for both civilians and firefighters. Engine 2 received the dispatch around 8:30 PM and confirmed, upon arrival, that light smoke was indeed visible in the two story wood frame house. Lieutenant Mark Kruger, Engineer Steven Grant and Firefighter Joshua Covelli entered into the smokey structure and were told by one resident that an elderly gentleman was inside on the second floor and would require assistance in getting out. As Kruger and Grant were in the process of bringing the victim down to the ground floor and out through the front door, the conditions within the home still remained one of light smoke or haze wafting about, approximately knee-high. Once the victim was removed from the home, however, the haze suddenly changed to thick, pitch-black smoke and then, without warning, flashed over into a wall of flame, totally engulfing the three firefighters inside the front room of the home. This change in the firefighting conditions transpired in a matter of seconds and, to make matters worse, the front door slammed shut on the firefighters preventing an immediate escape. Luckily, Lieutenant Chip George, riding in with Ladder 1 on OT, happened to observe the proceedings and, without hesitation, forcibly opened the door, grabbing Kruger and Grant and helping them exit the inferno that had so suddenly developed. Firefighter Covelli, also trapped in the blaze on the ground floor and separated from the rest of his crew, managed to locate a rear door and exit the structure on his own. The firefighters sustained various injuries in the process but were all reported as doing 'fine,' with the scare of witnessing a possible 'backdraft' up close and personal serving as a reminder of the dangers affiliated with the profession of firefighting.
Sunday afternoon, February 18th, units were dispatched to another house fire at 1267 West 22nd Street just before 1 PM and, unlike the previous account, were able to confirm that heavy smoke and flame were immediately visible from the single-story structure. During the interior search efforts, firefighters were able to locate the unconscious body of 9 year old Nathaniel Murphy in a back bedroom. The quick actions of removing him from the home, coupled with the expert pre-hospital care and subsequent transport to Shands provided by Rescue 4, soon led the boy, listed in critical condition upon arriving at the hospital, to be upgraded and considered stable enough to be transported to Shands, Gainesville for additional care. The child was one of 7 children in the house at the time the fire broke out; a fire that was apparently sparked by accident and involved the living room sofa. The father, along with neighbors, managed to get six children out of the structure and realized later that one, young Nathaniel, was still missing. By that time firefighters had already located the boy and performed the rescue as already described earlier in this treatise. Unfortunately, the home was deemed a total loss.
The following day, President's Day, units were sent to yet another possible house fire, this time at 7516 Wilder in '9's' territory near the Trout River Bridge. Although light smoke was initially reported by neighbors for the dispatch and despite the confirmation of that condition by Engine and Tower Ladder 9 upon arrival, the crews still made a sad discovery upon entering into the single story home: the 90 year old female homeowner was found dead inside the dwelling, on the floor near the unlocked front door. With many of the pieces of the puzzle classified as circumstantial, investigators were nonetheless capable of piecing the main details together. The deceased, Audrey Helvenston, lived alone in the home and was in need of her walker in order to move about. Sometime during an attempt to cook a meal on her gas stove, the unfortunate victim accidently set her robe on fire and then attempted to flee the kitchen. With the back door to the house locked, she made way (with the assistance of her walker) to the front door, dodging and attempting to avoid pieces of furniture in her home that stood in her way, all the while her robe becoming more consumed by the advancing flames. Just before making it to the door, she apparently became entangled in a large rocker-recliner type chair, falling over with it, now trapped on the floor with her robe fully engulfed in flame. When firefighters arrived at the scene, only a few hot spots remained for extinguishment and the trail of the woman's ordeal spoke volumes: many charred areas along the wall, furniture and carpet, all created by the disintegrating robe, proved that the path from the kitchen to the front door of the living room was truly a horrific and description-defying, epic tragedy for the victim in her attempt to flee the scene.
Following closely on the heels of the tragedy from Monday, February 19th, another fire claimed another female victim late Tuesday evening at 1744 West 9th Street. Firefighters responded to a report of a house fire at the aforementioned address and, upon arriving, confirmed that heavy black smoke was evident in the rear of the single story, single family concrete block construction. Crews from Engine 7 and Ladder 18 were forced to use the air chisel to break open the burglar bar door affixed to the front entrance of the home and, upon entering, subsequently found the female vicitm on the floor of the kitchen near the entrance. Despite rapid pre-hospital care and transport to Shands by Rescue 7, the woman was pronounced dead a short time after arriving at the hospital. Investigators discovered that the culprit of this deadly blaze was a space heater in the back bedroom, left far too close to comustible materials which, after ignition, soon caused the fire to rapidly spread throughout the remainder of the back area of the house. No smoke detectors were found within the home.