Sunday, November 1, marks the end of Daylight Savings Time for 2009 and, with that occurrence, the Department would like to remind everyone to use this opportunity to check and replace the batteries in all residential smoke detectors. Be sure to test the alarm for overall operational readiness, as most detectors generally need outright replacement every ten years. The threat of a home fire taking your life is virtually cut in half by ensuring that a working smoke detector is present in your residence.
Tuesday afternoon, November 3, just before 1 PM, an office manager at the Chelsea Courtyards apartments located at 2260 University Boulevard North notified the maintenance worker on duty that a report of a fire in apartment #20 had been issued; in retrospect, an epic understatement. Heavy smoke and flames were visible, completely engulfing the south-eastern corner of the two story, 26 unit building, with several occupants hanging out of their apartment windows from the second floor, frantically waving and screaming for help. The first two units on scene, Engines 19 and 27, not only promptly issued a second alarm but immediately set about helping everyone out of the building, using ladders to reach those individuals on the second floor. With the life safety objective accomplished (including the rescue of two cats) and more units arriving on scene, the aforementioned Engine companies began to work their way up the stairway that separated the structure into two equally sized buildings. Following the call for a third alarm by Command, leading to well over 60 firefighters at the scene, the ladder pipes of 28 and 1 went into action protecting exposures to the rear of the impinged area and directly dousing the heaviest flames. Calling the fire under control in less than 30 minutes, crews ascended to the second floor with handlines to knock down hot spots and soon made a tragic discovery: a fatality in the apartment believed to be the point of origin of the fire. With far more than a dozen people displaced, Red Cross arrived at the scene to provide appropriate support while various investigative agencies, such as the State Fire Marshal's Office, began the arduous task of piecing together the information needed in order to determine the cause of the fire. No serious injuries were reported at the incident that caused over $ 1 million in damages, however, 2 civilians and one firefighter were transported to area hospitals, all with minor injuries.
The Thanksgiving holiday season began with an unfortunate and nearly fatal accident and, by the time the festive weekend had concluded, would be considered as one of the most tragic 5 day periods in recent memory. Wednesday, November 25th and 'Thanksgiving Eve,' units within the Brentwood area of the city responded to the report of a fire on West 17th Street. Although the first arriving units could not immediately confirm, let alone identify, any significant fire or smoke at the aforementioned address, the magnitude of the incident soon became quite clear. A kerosene space heater inside of the two story, wood frame single family dwelling, had somehow flared or sparked, resulting in the liquid contents of the heater spilling out onto the floor and promptly engulfing a stroller with a 5 month old infant strapped inside. The father of the child grabbed the infant and quickly extinguished the flames, then proceeded to jettison both space heater and stroller to the outside front yard of the home to prevent further damage; the house did fill up with smoke, however, prompting JFRD rescue units to subsequently transport 5 pediatric patients to Shands, Jacksonville, for precautionary reasons. The infant suffered severe burns and was taken first to Shands, then airlifted to Shands Gainesville and the burn unit located there. The father was treated at Shands, Jacksonville, for burns sustained during his valiant rescue attempt. He was released the following day.
Although the actual Thanksgiving holiday was relatively free from any major emergency, Friday, November 27, would prove to be a day and date far more eventful. Just before 8 AM, units responded to the report of a structure fire in the 2200 block of Commonwealth, with Engine 17 arriving first on scene and reporting flames and heavy smoke pouring out of the burglar bar encased front windows. Quickly subduing the flames and forcing entry, the firefighters made a grisly discovery as the body of an adult male was found immediately in the front living room. Investigators soon determined that an electrical space heater, placed too close to a love seat in the living room, was the culprit behind the fire; however, with no smoke detectors found anywhere inside the home the victim, believed to have been asleep on an adjacent couch in the aforementioned living room, had no chance of escaping a fiery environment that resulted from nothing more than a slowly smoldering piece of furniture.
Following the incident from that Friday, the very next day Saturday, November 28, brought about yet another horrific fire with fatal results. A young, 12 year old girl was riding her bicycle outside of a home in the 2200 block of Cato Road; a home where her 71 year old aunt was resting inside a bedroom located in the front of the single story, single family wood frame house. Suddenly, the child noticed smoke coming from the window leading to the young girl running into the home to both call 9-1-1 and attempt to help her aunt. The dispatchers who took the call heard the frightened and terrified voice of the child frantically exclaiming 'the house is on fire! I can't breathe!' The dispatchers told the child to get out of the house, receiving the resigned response that 'there is too much smoke!' When told to jump out of a window, the young girl meekly replied 'I'll try,' a sentence that was followed by the line going dead as flames had now severed the phone line leading to the house. When firefighters arrived at the scene they witnessed the entire front of the home, including the covered porch area, enveloped by heavy smoke and flame. With the combined efforts of the crews from 4, 13 and 21, both the suppression and primary search objectives were quickly fulfilled; but the efforts came too late for the trapped female victims and both were pronounced dead at the scene. Firefighters reported that the young girl was found wedged between a wall and a bed in the front bedroom, the same room where the elderly woman was discovered on the floor near the door. The point of origin of the fire was soon determined to be the main hallway immediately adjacent to the bedroom, with a space heater once again representing the source of the fire. Here, too, smoke detectors were not present anywhere in the home.
Monday afternoon, more specifically November 30th and just after 2 PM, units were dispatched to the report of a possible drowning at an apartment complex located at the intersection of Losco and Old St. Augustine Roads. The first arriving unit happened to be District Chief 9, who was in the area performing pre-planning responsibilities. Once on scene, the Chief became an eye-witness to off-duty firefighter Captain Robin Gainey swimming toward the nearest embankment of this approximately 30 acre 'pond,' towing an adult male with him. The information that was soon gathered revealed that the worst was still to come...Three male juveniles had procured (as was later discovered, actually stolen) a 12 foot Jon boat and made their way toward the center of the pond where the fountain was located at. Soon they realized that their activity had been discovered and, panic stricken, abandoned the boat, jumping into the lake and swimming toward the shore. Two of the three accomplished this feat but the third boy began to struggle, crying out for help. Two Good Samaritans heard the anguished plea for help and entered into the water in an attempt to swim toward the young boy and render assistance. One would-be rescuer soon gave up but the other continued on, suddenly realizing that the distance was far too great to overcome. Incapable of mustering enough strength to make the return trip, the Good Samaritan was fortunate to have off duty Captain Gainey as his angel nearby - Gainey had heard the dispatch on his portable scanner and, being in the vicinity of the incident, decided to head to the scene. Once there he observed one struggling male in the water, dove in without hesitation and safely brought the 'wanna-be rescuer' back to the shoreline. It was at that time that the realization was made by everyone at the scene that the other juvenile was no longer visible: the body eventually recovered by the Dive Team of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, many hours later after the initial dispatch.