With daylight savings time returning this month, along with the arrival of spring, it is once again imperative that everyone remember to perform a few home safety measures while moving clocks forward. As most people do know, daylight savings means to check your home smoke detectors for operational readiness and to change the battery within the unit. A home without a working smoke detector is accident prone, with statistics indicating that a working smoke detector can prevent the loss of life in a home fire by over 50%. Make sure to also review home fire escape plans, particularly having a discussion with your family members about an assembly point outside of the home in the event of a fire. Don't forget that the Jacksonville Fire/Rescue Department offers free smoke detectors; this program is available to anyone by calling 630-7842 and providing all pertinent information.
The month of April of this year has now provided the Department with truly memorable and tragic incidents unlike any witnessed in recent years. Oddly, these landmark scenarios all occurred within a very short time frame, beginning with a tragic accident on Thursday, April 6th. Shortly after 12 PM on that day, units from the JFRD were dispatched to a report of a 'recreational vehicle' fire on the westside of town, specifically 6637 Pickettville Road. Firefighters immediately extinguished the fire engulfing a motor home, a fire so large that 60 foot tall pine trees surrounding the location were encased in flames. Unfortunately for one individual, trapped inside of the vehicle, all rescue attempts came far too late and the 60 year old male was pronounced dead at the scene. With investigators from various agencies at the scene, eye witness testimony indicated that repair work on several vehicles coupled with the raking and possible burning of leaves on the property necessitated vast amounts of gasoline to be regularly used for the purposes previously mentioned. No conclusive evidence emerged linking the aforementioned activities and scenario with the subsequent tragedy; in fact, preliminary reports indicate a possible faulty electrical component of the motor-home may be to blame for the fire.
Things soon went from bad to much worse, as firefighters were called to the scene of a mobile home fire early Friday morning, just before 3 AM, at 1340 Mull Street. When arriving at the scene, first due Engine 22 reported that the double wide trailer was fully involved, meaning flame was engulfing the structure literally from end to end. Multiple explosions were witnessed during the struggle to extinguish the blaze, brought about through the presence of oxygen bottles and propane cylinders, but with Engine 31 along with other units joining in the fray the blaze was finally brought under control after about 20 minutes. It was then that firefighters began making the gruesome discovery of three bodies inside the destroyed mobile home, with reports of three additional bodies possibly buried beneath the charred rubble as well. After many hours of securing the scene, with evidence technicians and other similar experts performing their respective duties, the laborious work to sift through the debris for other victims began in earnest. At approximately 11 AM the three other victims were finally located, bringing the horrific tragedy into focus along with an extremely depressing tally of 6 deceased members of one family. Specifically, 4 children (two 6-year old twin girls and their two brothers, ages 7 and 12) and their two grandparents. Although much circumstantial evidence was present, the initial investigation did seem to pinpoint a candle or 'candles' as a possible cause for the single greatest fire tragedy to befall the city in over a decade. The most important element gathered from this catastrophe was that a working smoke detector could not be accounted for at the scene. Once again, failure to safeguard against the possibility of a home fire by not having a working smoke detector proved too much for one family to overcome.
The Department's busy period was far from over, however, as the very next day (Saturday, April 8th) in the early afternoon at approximately 2:30, firefighters found themselves battling a 3rd Alarm at the Smurfit Stone Recycling compound. Located at 1580 West Beaver Street, the over 70 firefighters fought for nearly 5 hours to contain a raging inferno the likes of which had not been seen since possibly the great Steuart Tank Farm Fire of the early 90's. Possibly as a result of trash spontaneously erupting into flame, the fire soon leap-frogged throughout the compound, igniting huge bale-like mounds of paper products bundled together in mountainous dimensions of over 20 foot high and 25 foot wide. With wind gusts in excess of 40 knots, the fire soon jumped the initial fireground, setting ablaze nearby grass and trees all along West Beaver between Myrtle, Tyler and Acorn Streets. For a time, the wind threatened to carry embers across West Beaver into business and residential areas as well. Numerous explosions from bursting tractor-trailer tires affixed to the aforementioned vehicles still docked at bays along the company's warehouse created an eerie feel of doom. Along with the pitch black sky from heavy smoke stretching as far as the eye could see downwind north and north-east, and with trees along the impacted West Beaver bursting into flames and unidentified debris raining down from the sky in every direction imagineable, the scene certainly felt as if it had been created by the over-active imagination of a Hollywood production; possibly entitled 'Armageddon: The Sequel.' Even after the fire was contained within the time frame mentioned previously, crews remained on scene throughout the night into Sunday afternoon performing overhaul and hotspot extinguishment. Despite the massive and exhausting effort performed by the firefighters at the scene, despite the north wall of the warehouse undergoing a dangerous partial collapse, and despite the fireground essentially comprised of nearly a quarter mile, no injuries were reported at any time to either civilians or firefighters throughout the entire ordeal.
In news of a more enjoyable note, Engineer Danny McPhaul, Engine 28 - C, was selected as the Distinguished Member of the Year for his work as Deputy Commander with the Disaster Medical Assistance Team, FL-4, Department of Homeland Security/FEMA/NDMS, the same organization that bestowed unto him the aforementioned recognition. In a ceremony scheduled for April 23rd, Engineer McPhaul will receive his award during the National Disaster Medical System conference in Reno, Nevada. Congratulations!
Also noteworthy is the grand opening ceremony for new Fire Station #35, scheduled for Thursday afternoon at 4 PM at the station's new site located at 12851 North Main Street. The Honorable Mayor John Peyton and District 11 Council Representative Warren Alvarez are among the distinguished guests expected to be in attendance. For those of you unfamiliar with the new station a visit is highly recommended, as the preservation of several magnificent oak trees lends an aura of splendor to the entire compound. A very impressive sight, indeed!