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Pasco County, FL, Fire Rescue met one of the biggest challenges in the history of the department on Nov. 24, 2010, the evening before Thanksgiving – a 42½-hour operation, the longest continuous operation at a building fire in the department’s history.
On Wednesday, Nov. 24, at 10:24 P.M., Communications dispatched a commercial assignment for a building fire in the Dade City Business Center. Responding companies were advised that a private security officer reported smoke from a building in the 134-acre complex. Formerly, the complex was home to the largest citrus-processing facility on one site in the United States. Following the citrus plant’s closing, the complex was purchased and began a transition into small business and light industry. Existing structures were divided into mixed occupancies using many existing large, warehouse-type structures.
The City of Dade City merged its fire department under contract with Pasco County in 2003. Pasco County is on Florida’s west coast, just north of the Tampa and Clearwater area, and measures 745 square miles. Pasco County Fire Rescue (PCFR) provides advanced life support (ALS) protection for the entire population of 475,000 and fire protection to all but three small municipalities. The unincorporated portion of Pasco County includes approximately 84% of the total land area.
PCFR responds out of 26 stations housing 27 engine companies and 21 ALS rescues. Its 430 career personnel are augmented by 188 volunteers. An aerial truck is used as one engine company and three other engines are elevated-stream devices. In addition, PCFR operates the Communications Division, which includes the primary Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) and Enhanced 911 (E911) center as well as dispatch for Fire Rescue.
The fire building was constructed in 1981 and attached to structures built in the 1960s. The complex was annexed into the City of Dade City following the fire department merger. The city chose to maintain its own fire safety division, which included state-certified fire inspectors.
Business park fire protection is supplied by a private water system with a fire pump drafting from a pond that supplies all hydrants, standpipes and sprinkler systems. The private system would be key during this extended operation. The former citrus-processing facility also had its own electric distribution center and the new owner was slowly converting it to the local power company.
The current occupant of the fire building is a distributor of “fragrance oil” products and had in excess of 200 55-gallon drums (some metal and some plastic) of the product. There was also a large quantity of material used to transfer the oil for retail use, including small bottles and a very large quantity of fragrance sticks that were to be saturated with the oil before distribution.
The fire building was apparently originally constructed as fire-resistive construction; however, many changes seem to have been made to the building since it was built. The complex is dealing with a fast-growing business center where occupants change rapidly.
Within six minutes of the dispatch, first-due Engine 24 entered the complex and reported heavy smoke in the area. Firefighters were led to the fire building by a security vehicle and soon located the source. Fire could be seen under an overhead rollup door and heavy smoke conditions were issuing from the 230-by-165-foot, three-story building. District Chief 34 arrived within two minutes and established Business Command.
Engine 24 and Rescue 24 deployed a 2½-inch pre-connect with two members acting as a rapid intervention team with a second line. An opening was created in the rollup door with a vent saw. Command requested a second alarm. Thus began a 42½-hour operation, the longest continuous operation at a building fire in the history of PCFR.