Saturday, 5 March and beginning at 5:30 p.m., the Department will once again enjoy the festivities associated with the Annual Awards Ceremony, with this year's recipient of the prestigious Joseph F. Stichway Award coming from Engine 10 - 'A' in the form of Firefighter Theodis Harris II. Congratulations to both Firefighter Harris and the many other noteworthy individuals who have been singled out for their contributions to the Department's mission of protecting life and property here in Jacksonville.
Tuesday, 8 March and just before 3:30 in the afternoon, units were dispatched to the report of an apartment fire at 333 Laurina Street, more specifically Apartment #437 in a complex known as 'The Columns.' Upon arrival units confirmed that heavy smoke and flames were visible from the ground floor of the two story apartment, with the adjacent units also in significant distress. With two nearby fire walls providing additional support in preventing the progression of the fire to the aforementioned exposures, the crews from both Engine 12 and Engine 20 jumped the blaze so quickly and thoroughly that the fire was called under control in less than 20 minutes. Although their professional and skilled actions resulted in limiting the damage to only the fire apartment, with merely smoke and some minor water damage reported within the apartments situated to the immediate right and left, the blaze did manage to consume the entire ground floor and, tragically, also claim the life of the family dog. The only injuries reported from the scene were associated with one firefighter, sustained during suppression activities and classified as minor, with the subsequent investigation revealing an accidental cause attributed to a lamp placed too close to a combustible source.
Although this year's brush fire season has certainly been quite active in many areas, Duval County has thankfully remained relatively unscathed from this annual scourge. A reminder of just how challenging this yearly ritual can be occurred Wednesday evening, 23 March, when units were summoned to the report of a brush fire in the 9000 block of Redtail Drive on the westside of Jacksonville. Earlier that evening an adult male was working in the garage of his two story, stucco exterior residence when he saw through the open garage door flames appearing in the window of his neighbor's home right across the street of their cul-de-sac location. Racing over to alert everyone that the house was on fire, he suddenly realized upon approach that the flames he was looking at were actually nothing more but a reflection in the neighbor's front window! Spinning around and glancing back, the man saw that the flames were in fact encroaching upon his house, fueled by the wild vegetation from the adjacent vacant lot, already consuming several 15 foot tall pine trees located less than 10 feet from his house. The intense radiant heat had successfully melted several sections of the home's vulnerable vinyl soffit by the time the first engine company, Engine 52, arrived on scene, with the fire rapidly gaining momentum and moving through the backyard into neighboring properties. With several wooden privacy fences catching fire, the expedient actions of all emergency responders proved to be the difference as Engine 52's crew successfully stopped the forward progression of the fire head posing the immediate threat to the two story home; all other arriving crews quickly grasped their objectives and within 15 minutes, aided by the timely and efficient support from a select crew from Clay County, Command was able to call the entire incident under control. With a somewhat paltry 3 acres charred (a small amount compared with the hundreds of acres being consumed by wildfires in neighboring counties) and damages limited to a relatively small dollar amount, the event could easily be dismissed as being somewhat trivial when compared to the magnitude or nature of other incidents the Department routinely encounters. With that being said, this particular brush fire not only emphasized the potential devastation these events can bring about, but also the speed or overall rapidity in which all affiliated damage can be achieved: the only thing faster this evening, however, was the equally quick response noted for all of the on scene units. The aforementioned expediency of both response and on scene actions by the emergency responders ultimately prevented this brush fire from becoming a far greater threat than the one experienced.
Saturday afternoon, March 26, units responded to a structure fire in the 12000 block of Pecan Hickory Court on the city's northside, more specifically near the intersection of Yellow Bluff and New Berlin roads. The fire encountered on scene involved a two-story, single family home engulfed in flames with fire already coming through the roof. Although the occupants of the house were not home at the time two family pets were, two English Bulldogs to be more precise, and firefighters managed to successfully pull the two canines from the burning structure. Not a minute too soon, as incident command had to recall interior crews due to a partial roof collapse some 15 minutes into the operation. Suppression subsequently resumed with a deliberate exterior attack coupled with ongoing exposure protection, and the fire was called under control in just under an hour following the initial arrival on scene. Although the point of origin was soon determined to be the garage, the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
The first major storm system of the year also resulted in the Department's first response to a structure fire resulting from a lightning strike. Wednesday, 30 March, units were dispatched to 13339 Mt. Pleasant Road where a pool house was reported to be on fire. The 1,200 square foot brick structure, located on property at the end of a narrow dirt road over a mile away from Mt. Pleasant Road, had been struck by lightning just after 3 in the afternoon with smoke soon visibly wafting skyward from underneath the roof. Water shuttles were promptly implemented to overcome the lack of hydrants in this remote location and the stubborn fire was eventually extinguished after over an hour of prolonged activity. Although the pool house was saved, the damage was quite substantial and served as a poignant reminder of the general devastation that can result from these notoriously strong storm cells that frequent our region with considerable regularity.