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The continuing threat to exposure D where the ammonia tank was housed caused concern. It was later learned that what appeared to a firewall between the two buildings actually did not meet the floor line between the second and third floors. This was the cause of the increased heat levels in exposure D and had the upper floors of the exposure building not been vacant would have certainly added to the fire spread.
Personnel from the relief shift extended additional lines into the vacant second floor, where they breached a concrete block wall to gain access to the only remaining area of fire in the original building. This operation was conducted simultaneously with the application of aerial master streams in an all-out effort to stop the fire before it spread into exposure D.
Once knockdown was achieved for the roof and second floor, efforts were turned toward overhaul. Adding to the challenges, insulation material between partitions and walls covered during remodel also ignited. While this material was smoldering in most areas, it had to be cut out by hand before complete extinguishment could be accomplished.
Two engine companies operated through the night on hot spots. The Dade City Police Department established security until the cause-and-origin team could get into the building. More than once that night, the engine companies dealt with flare ups. On Friday, the third shift to be involved in the operation reported to the scene with three engine companies to finish the overhaul operation. Mounds of material were sifted through to ensure the fire was completely out.
The Florida State Fire Marshal’s (SFM) office handles cause-and-origin investigations in the City of Dade City. A SFM investigator was dispatched to the scene early in the operation. Due to the extent and complexity of the incident, the SFM activated a task force consisting of members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) as well as its own investigators. Before the team could enter, the investigators required the building to be declared safe by a structural engineer. The cause has yet to be announced.
Challenges included a large fenced complex with limited access, occupancies that change without the knowledge of PCFR, a water system that was compromised by the early explosion, inaccurate content information provided by on-scene occupant and owner, and the inability to shut down power to the fire building without affecting the entire complex.
The structure itself provided additional challenges. The area of origin was two stories high while most of the building was three stories. Covered breezeways between buildings and heavy smoke further limited access. Ladder companies could not ventilate due to access and building configuration, and several interior wall changes had been created during remodeling.
The fact that the buildings were constructed for citrus processing added several hazards, including a seven-foot indentation in the first floor that was the size of a swimming pool. During overhaul, one firefighter fell into this area, which was filled with water from broken pipes. Fortunately, the department had provided a training class that demonstrated how to self-extricate from water while wearing turnout gear and the member was not injured.
Afterwards, Lopinto published a departmentwide memo complimenting all involved for a job well done. A challenge that this department had not faced was met and overcome without any serious injuries to personnel. The fire was kept in the building of origin because of the strategy and tactics adopted that night. Only one firefighter required transport the first night of the incident for a minor injury and after being treated and released, he returned to duty his next shift.