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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An entertainment establishment across town, many miles from the stadium, had let a promoter schedule parties at its location, but the promoter did not file for needed permits. On Saturday, the evening before the game, the promoter simply put up a large fence that restricted egress and fire department access and let the party start. By the time police and the Fire Marshal's Office got wind of it, a significant crowd had gathered. Eventually, the party was shut down and the partygoers moved on. The next day, game day, the fence was down and the venue was allowed to reopen under its existing assembly permit.

Celebrations associated with Super Bowl week involved an area far beyond the borders of the city and involved communities in the Tampa Bay metropolitan area. To protect all the activities, several branches under a unified command would need to be interconnected for continuity of control over the events. Tampa Fire Rescue uses a video teleconferencing system to connect chief officers as they plan daily staffing for the department. To enhance communications during Super Bowl week, equipment from the video teleconferencing system was moved to the branches. A unified command post, joint operations center, emergency operations center, marine operations branch, downtown branch, stadium branch and team hotel area branch (Westshore Branch) were tied together with the video teleconferencing. During Super Bowl week, the command sites held twice-daily briefings through the system. Had a major unplanned event occurred in one or more of the branches, resources could have been requested and reassigned quickly with the benefit of virtual face-to-face communication.

In and around the stadium, most of the planning involved providing security for the game. During the build-out week, Tampa Fire Rescue maintained a two-person medical crew on site. The fire marshal also made sure he had four inspectors on site each day to help the contractors work through any issues or problems that might arise. The Tampa Fire Rescue Hazardous Materials Team set up an MSA SafeSite system to monitor for and detect several potential threats, including chemical warfare agents, toxic industrial chemicals and gamma radiation.

As game day approached, the security area around the stadium tightened. No person, uniformed or not, could enter the secure perimeter without credentials issued by law enforcement agencies. No vehicle could enter without being searched or examined by the x-ray of a Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System (VACIS). Positioned inside the secure perimeter were several fire combat vehicles including one fire truck, two tanker trucks and two small Kubota utility vehicles outfitted with Kimtek Firelite firefighting units. These skid-mounted units carry 75 gallons of water, five gallons of foam, a reel with 150 feet of one-inch hose and a small engine to act as a pump. The aluminum unit is also fabricated with an area that can carry a Stokes basket.

During the week leading up to Super Bowl, the NFL Experience (NFL-X) was opened in a large parking area south of the stadium. Over 20,000 people a day attended the attraction. It was the NFL-X that would provide Tampa Fire with an opportunity to test the response plans. Grease in a trailer-mounted LPG rotisserie cooker just outside of a concession tent caught fire. The fire spread from the cooker to some nearby boxes and then to the tent. Tampa Fire Chief Dennis Jones was in the area when the fire broke out. He quickly grabbed a portable extinguisher and knocked down the flames. Within minutes, a Kubota with a fire-suppression unit and an inspector on fire watch were on scene. The two firefighters kept the flames in check until a tanker truck arrived and completed the extinguishment. The inspector tended to two minor smoke-inhalation patients who had been working in the tent. From this small fire, responders confirmed the units stationed within the secured stadium footprint could respond quickly to maintain a situation. This response also confirmed that units in the neighborhoods surrounding the stadium could, with assistance of security personnel, quickly access the secure area and deal with an emergency.

On game day, security around the stadium was enhanced. An extended hard barrier of several blocks surrounded the stadium and the nearby NFL-X and Tailgate Party. To accommodate the heightened security measures, medical staffing in the stadium area was increased. With the weather cooperating by providing clear skies and warm temperatures, fans began flooding into the area well before game time. Personnel in the first-aid tents stayed busy throughout the day. Most of the problems were minor and treated quickly. By the time the stadium opened for the fans to enter and find their seats for the Super Bowl, dozens of fans had been seen by the medical staff.