The Jacksonville Fire/Rescue Department will announce the recipient of the Joseph F. Stichway Award, also more commonly known as the 'Firefighter of the Year,' during the annual Awards Ceremony scheduled for Friday, 5 March, beginning at 6 p.m. and held in the Union Hall on Stockton Street.
In the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, March 21st, shortly before 5 a.m., units responded to an initial report of a small 'shed' fire in the 6100 block of Mercer Circle West. Upon arriving at the address located within the Lakewood community of the city, units confirmed that this particular fire, reported by an alert neighbor, did in fact involve a small structure located separately on property shared by a larger single family dwelling. As the fire continued to ravage the smaller building, firefighters soon learned that the structure was actually a garage apartment with the resident tenant the son of the property owner. With flames completely engulfing the building, firefighters were forced to assume a defensive posture but nevertheless had the fire extinguished within a short time; unfortunately, the feared tragic outcome could not be prevented as the remains of the young adult male were soon discovered. Adding to the horrific scene was the additional revelation of yet another body located within the rubble and debris of the totally destroyed apartment. Although the investigation is still ongoing as of Monday, March 22nd, the assembled team of investigators were able to quickly determine that the garage apartment was not equipped with a working smoke detector.
Late Monday evening, at approximately 9:30 p.m., JFRD dispatch received a call from a passerby that flames could be seen surrounding an exterior column of a breezeway affixed to an apartment building in the 8800 block of Old Kings Road South. Firefighters arriving on scene at the apartment complex known as Deer Meadow Apartments confirmed that one of the many three story apartment buildings of the compound, with each comprised of 24 apartment units and adorned with two separate breezeways providing stairs for access to all three floors, had heavy, black smoke and flames engulfing a breezeway in Building 700. This specific flight of stairs, located along the southern and front portion of the apartment building, served 12 apartment units that were promptly evacuated by firefighters, resulting in the temporary displacement of over 30 residents. Aggressively attacking the fire, firefighters soon had the flames subdued and the incident was called under control in less than 15 minutes. During overhaul and hot spot extinguishment throughout the stairwell, it soon became apparent that the fire was more than likely the result of a discarded cigarette or similar accidental occurrence. The columns of the breezeway were in contact with the ground and mulched flower beds nearby, but a gap exisited between the bottom of the structure and the ground at the point of origin of the fire: this in turn created an opening for burning mulch, as potentially ignited by a carelessly discarded cigarette, to enter up directly into the column through an approximately two inch void within the plaster and wood encased, hollow construction. In spite of the damage to the breeezeway, in and of itself relatively minute, the event was certainly considered a success by all as no injuries were reported and the apartment units remained virtually unscathed.