Although the month of July typically begins with the pleasures and festivities associated with the celebration of Independence Day, early July of 2009 will be remembered for the tragic loss of a young life just two days before the holiday. Shortly before 5 PM on that Thursday, units responded to the report of a fire at a single family, single story concrete block constructed home, with the worst possible scenario additionally included in the initial dispatch: a young child trapped inside. A mixed gathering of adults and children, totaling 8 individuals altogether, were happily celebrating a pre-July 4th bash at the home located in the 29 hundred block of 9th Street West when one of the children alerted the remaining group that the 'house was on fire.' Upon exiting the structure, the group discovered that a 3 year old male was unaccounted for. Hearing screams from a bedroom window located on the westside of the home, the mother of the missing boy attempted to re-enter the home but could not get past the rapidly building smoke and flame. Another family member tried to douse the flames pouring out of the bedroom window by using a garden hose, alas to no avail. Despite the fact firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze in less than 10 minutes, the crew of Ladder 10 performing the Primary Search could only confirm what had been feared: the child had died in the fire. One firefighter sustained minor injuries during the supression activity and was transported to Baptist Hospital by Rescue 5. Investigators from the State Fire Marshal's Office and Jacksonville Sheriff's Office were called onto the scene in an attempt to determine, among other issues, both cause and point of origin of the fire.
As soon as the holiday weekend had passed, the Department was once again confronted by a fire with an incredibly tragic outcome. At approximately 3 AM on Tuesday, July 7, units were summoned to Lot 9 of the Royal Court Trailer Park located at 5505 Timuquana Road. As Engine 25 pulled into the compound first on scene, they could see an older model, nearly 30 foot long 5th wheel detached travel camper with heavy flames and smoke consuming the front partition. Outside of the trailer, an adult male was excitedly exclaiming that inside of the burning camper three more adults remained trapped somewhere in the rear of the unit. Rapidly making entry into the narrow structure, the crew of Engine 25 began to fight through the penetrating heat, thick smoke and congested, restricted interior of the camper until they reached the back of the unit. There, on the floor, were two adult figures, a male and one female, lifeless and completely engulfed by the acrid smoke. With the dimensions of the trailer far too narrow to allow for a conventional rescue method, coupled with the numerous items stacked inside the unit prohibiting a timely and rapid extraction of the victims from their predicament, the firefighters from Engine 25 instinctively smashed through the trailer's windows and began to pass the two adults to other firefighters waiting outside of the camper. The male, in critical condition, was promptly transported to Shands by Rescue 23 but the female, despite the truly heroic efforts of the firefighters, was pronounced dead at the scene. The supposed third adult inside the trailer as depicted by the adult male was never found, resulting in yet another question in a long list of the aforementioned asked by investigators assembled at the scene. The fire itself was extinguished in less than 5 minutes, but the loss of life still severely tarnished an otherwise successful rescue and suppression objective achieved by westside firefighters during those early morning hours.
Wednesday, July 8, an afternoon dispatch for Fire/Rescue response soon resulted in the equivalent of a Second Alarm assignment for a chemical fire at the Anheuser-Busch Metal Container Corporation. Located at 1100 Ellis Road North, the plant produces cans for beer and soda beverages and, in the process, utilizes the equivalent of 'boilers' and/or ovens that on this day proved to be the culprit of a fire and continuous burning of residual product. The acrid, putrid smoke and vapor cloud cascading down from the 'smoke stacks' served as a substantial irritant for those unfortunate enough to come into contact with the aforementioned, with individuals immediately complaining of itchy, watery eyes and a slight burning sensation of the skin. Following the evacuation of the complex and 4 nearby buildings within this industrial section of town, a displacement of approximately 200 people, suppression activity then focused on containing the multitude of flare-ups within the plant. While 'Operations' had this objective to pursue, the Hazardous Materials Team was feverishly assembling Material Safety Data Sheets and consulting the usual HAZMAT resources and learned that the by-product within the smoke, diphenyle-ethane, was considered a moderate source of eye/skin irritation with no other significant or noteworthy adverse effects. The over 60 firefighters at the scene were able to bring the situation under control after nearly 4 hours of combating the flare-ups, with no injuries reported to civilians and only one firefighter requiring treatment for heat exhaustion.
The latter phase of the month has brought a daily afternoon dose of heavy thunderstorms to the First Coast, with these regularly accompanied by large quantities of lightning illuminating the sky. Precisely such an occurrence may be to blame for a Second Alarm assignment to a commercial property structure fire just after 7 PM on Monday, July 27th. Units arriving at 7116 Atlantic Boulevard, the location of a 2,000 square foot single story, concrete block used appliance and furniture store known as 'Almost New Furniture and Appliances,' reported heavy black smoke pouring out of the front of the business. In the midst of a torrential downpour and numerous, impressive displays of lightning overhead, the first arriving crews forced entry into the structure to perform an aggressive interior attack, only to be pulled out of the structure a short time later as conditions began to deteriorate. With a defensive posture now in place, with lines charged to protect adjacent exposures, the assembled first responders were now prepared for a lengthy showdown, ultimately leading to the call for a Second Alarm assignment and the eventual collection of over 60 uniformed department members on scene. The fire was eventually subdued in less than an hour, with Ladder 28's aerial performing the finishing touches, and the building itself deemed a total loss with damage estimates of both structure and content in excess of $300,000. In spite of the dramatic circumstances surrounding the evolution, from the perils of live, arcing and sparking high voltage lines, to the continuous display of lightning and, finally, a complete collapse of the 15 foot metal and wood awning in the front of the building, injuries to either civilians or firefighters were not reported at the scene.
Just a short time later, early Wednesday morning at 2:50 AM, units responded to the report of yet another structure fire, this time located at 4038 St. Augustine Road. The concrete block, single story and approximately 2,000 square foot building, home to 'H & T Auto Repair and Service,' had flames shooting through the roof as the first units arrived on scene. Forcing entry through one of the front four bay doors, the corresponding interior attack was soon abandoned as sudden magnesium fires added yet another dimension of danger to the proceedings. With adjacent exposures to the immediate left and right of the building, and merely a few feet away in each case, Command shifted to a true defensive posture, protecting the exposures while bombarding the fire with the available deck gun. After nearly 30 minutes the fire was out, with no injuries reported, but over 200,000 dollars in damages and the building considered a total loss.