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Cocoa, FL, Fire Rescue protects a population of 18,000 in 15 square miles along the eastern Florida coastline. Unlike many Florida communities with high concentrations of seniors, Cocoaâ€™s largest age group is in the 20-44 age range. Cocoa Fire Rescue is staffed by 33 line personnel running out of three stations with three shifts. In addition, there is a chief and an assistant chief. The department responds to 4,000 fire and EMS runs annually. Thanks to Chief Ricky Plummer, Lieutenant Bryan Hahn, Lieutenant James Moore, Firefighter/EMT John Taylor (Engineer), Firefighter/EMT Eric Holt, Engineer Howard Peckham, Firefighter/EMT Mark Silverman and the other firefighters operating at this fire for their assistance.
Account from Chief Ricky Plummer:
Cocoa Fire Rescue was dispatched to a reported smoke investigation near Peachtree Street and U.S. 1 at 5:47 A.M. on March 30, 2006. Truck 31 (a quint) and District 30 (the shift commander) responded from Station 1. Upon arrival, District 30 reported heavy smoke showing from a multi-tenant commercial building 75 by 100 feet and requested a working fire assignment. Engines 32 and 33 and the fire chief were dispatched along with a request for Engine 35 from Rockledge.
Because there was no sign indicating what type of business was inside, companies were going in blind. As Truck 31 forced entry, Engine 32 had an attack line ready. Only a few minutes into the incident, there was a loud explosion that rocked the building and sent our firefighters ducking for cover. Conditions deteriorated immediately with heavy black smoke pushing out the now-broken windows, doors and roof.
Engine 32 made entry through the front door and encountered heavy fire conditions. I went to the rear of the building to get a look at the other sides of the structure and found heavy smoke coming out from an overhead door in at least two units. I ordered the two overhead doors be cut to get them open. Engine 33 took the roof and opened it up so crews could further advance. They soon discovered that it was an auto body shop with chemicals, acetylene and propane tanks. The explosion involved a nitrous oxide tank in the trunk of the car inside the building, which was fully involved. The fire had spread to the attic.
The contents were all flammable liquids and paint-shop equipment. Quite clearly, this fueled the fire. A second car had started to burn, but was pushed out the rear doors by firefighters to eliminate that as a fuel. A second line was advanced and foam was applied knocking down the fire.
This is one of those simple fires that could have turned terribly bad. Had the firefighters been inside when the nitrous oxide tank exploded, they quite possibly could have been killed. When the tank exploded, it blew the entire side of the car out and blew the trunk lid up as far as it could. The tank, which was made of thick aluminum, ripped opened like a tin can. We are thankful that it exploded upon entry, not while we were at the car!
Account from Lieutenant Bryan Hahn, the first-due command officer:
This building had no signs to indicate its use. It had three large roll-up garage doors in the front and two in the rear. Over the past 24 years, I have seen its contents change to everything from carpet sales to car repair shops, so I really had no idea what was burning.
The truck company was starting forcible entry and Engine 32 had pulled a line to the entry point. I was checking the rear of the structure for other means of entry and exposures. As I was checking one of the doors, there was a large explosion that shook the entire building. I reported the explosion to incoming units and a head count was taken immediately. Naturally, I was relieved to get the report that everyone was accounted for and entry had not been completed yet. I ordered personnel to be extremely cautious as they entered the structure.