Protecting the Super Bowl: Tampa Fire Rescue

Those who have not hosted a Super Bowl may tell you, "It's just a football game." But ask anyone in a community that has hosted America's unofficial holiday, the Super Bowl, and they will tell you it's a planning-intensive, security-driven super event.


Those who have not hosted a Super Bowl may tell you, "It's just a football game." But ask anyone in a community that has hosted America's unofficial holiday, the Super Bowl, and they will tell you it's a planning-intensive, security-driven super event. When a community hosts the Super Bowl, the...


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Those who have not hosted a Super Bowl may tell you, "It's just a football game." But ask anyone in a community that has hosted America's unofficial holiday, the Super Bowl, and they will tell you it's a planning-intensive, security-driven super event.

When a community hosts the Super Bowl, the football game is just one consideration. There are many high-profile events throughout the community that attract large numbers of people. Some are high-price, exclusive-access events for celebrities, athletes and entertainers. Other events are held more for the community and families such as the NFL Experience (NFL-X), a carnival-like football interactive attraction.

The last time Tampa, FL, hosted a Super Bowl was in January 2001. There was a significant security presence in 2001, but nothing that compares with the magnitude of a post-9/11 Super Bowl. Working within the demands for heightened security, Tampa Fire Rescue worked for two years gearing up to provide fire suppression, fire prevention, EMS and hazardous materials protection and response plans for Super Bowl XLIII. This premiere American sports event was hosted by Tampa for the fourth time on Feb. 1, 2009.

In addition to providing fire-EMS and hazmat emergency response, Tampa Fire Rescue divisions include the City Emergency Management office and the Fire Marshal's Office. During the months leading up to the Super Bowl, the Fire Marshal's Office worked continuously with builders, developers and event planners who were looking forward to providing venues for activities to entertain all the visitors who would flock to the big game. The work demands increased significantly during the weeks leading up to the game, as requests for temporary permits, large-tent permits and place-of-assembly permits flooded in.

The plans included significant changes to Raymond James Stadium, the site of the game. Most significant was the opening of undeveloped spaces that were walled off and not generally used. These spaces, on the ground-floor service level, were not equipped with alarms or fire sprinklers. The stadium wanted to open these areas for several uses. One area was to be temporary office space, the other to be filled with pipes and draping for media interviews after the game. Working closely with the contractor, a plan was crafted to open additional exits, extend a temporary fire alarm, minimize fire load and test the fire pump to ensure that "needed fire flow" could be provided with the existing system. Additionally, trained fire-watch personnel were stationed near the areas at all times and additional fire protection was provided on site. After the game, these areas were to be walled up again.

Another challenge faced by the Fire Marshal's Office was ensuring that the major clubs and other party venues throughout the city kept conditions safe for their patrons. Many clubs that had been on the drawing board for years hurried their construction plans to open in time to host Super Bowl events. As the date of the game drew near, fire inspectors working in teams of two, for officer safety, went into the entertainment districts late in the evening to ensure that fire- and life-safety standards were being maintained. The inspectors' stated goal was to look for obvious safety issues such as overcrowding, blocked exits and alarm system problems. Inspectors have the authority to address problems quickly and make immediate corrections, including, if necessary, removing some or all of the patrons from the venue.

In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, inspectors visited several dozen businesses during peak operating hours. Downtown, one high-end nightclub under construction held a party the weekend before the game, and before obtaining a certificate of occupancy (CO). Fire inspectors had no choice but to close the club until it complied with local building codes. The club quickly addressed all concerns and obtained a CO in time for its next scheduled party mid-week.

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