Palm Bay F/R Engine catches fire while in quarters
Wow...Second Fire Station fire in less then a year in Brevard County
Fire truck up in smoke
Passer-by alerts firefighters inside station
BY J.D. GALLOP
Damaged pumper. Two fleet technicians at the Palm Bay Fleet Garage off Malabar Road examine a pumper truck heavily damaged in a fire early Monday morning at Fire Station 91 in Palm Bay.
Palm Bay Fire Station 91, was damaged by fire in an early morning blaze Monday that heavily damaged a pumper truck. The station was formerly named No. 3.
Wilson Matias was on his way to work early Monday when he spotted thick, black smoke billowing from inside Fire Station 91.
He rang the doorbell, screamed frantically and called 9-1-1 before the four firefighters inside woke up.
"I was just concerned about the firefighters inside," the 32-year-old said. "They put their lives on the line for us . . . I just did what I had to do."
No one was hurt, but the cab of a $250,000 fire truck was reduced to a burned-out hulk. About $50,000 in radio and other gear also was destroyed, and the station building sustained about $40,000 in smoke and water damage.
The 5:43 a.m. fire was traced to a battery charger that apparently overheated in the station's truck bay.
"The sprinklers kept the fire contained, and everything worked the way it was supposed to," said Palm Bay Fire Chief Larry Hellman, standing outside of the station Monday.
"It took a while before the heat could build up to the ceiling and activate the sprinklers, but absolutely, lives were saved by (Matias') actions and the sprinklers."
The Station 91 firefighters -- still dressed in T-shirts and shorts -- escaped their living quarters in the concrete building and used a brush truck parked in the back to put water on the blaze.
"I'm still a little sick about it," said Lt. David Ginsburg, who was sleeping in the station at the time.
Dispatchers woke him with a phone call, alerting him to the fire. He then woke the other firefighters and found the truck bay filled with choking, floor-level smoke.
The firefighters' living quarters and an adjacent office were not damaged. "This is our house. I was the one who got into a fire not getting out of one. It's a gut-wrenching feeling," Ginsburg said.
Another fire engine was brought in the driveway while the fire-gutted engine was towed to the city's garage nearly two miles away.
The cabin, which seats five, was reduced to a blackened heap of twisted metal and bare wires.
The emergency lights melted, as did portions of the aluminum roof, which dripped to the floor and formed piles resembling Hershey Kisses.
The most interesting item to investigators, however, is an orange extension cord now melded into the charger's jack on the driver's side.
Ferrara, a Louisiana-based company, manufactures about 300 similar fire engines a year and sold the truck to Palm Bay. Company representatives said they have no reports of any other problems with the truck model or the electrical charger.
"It is unusual," said Robin Hurst, the southeast regional manager of sales for Ferrara. The company is sending two electrical engineers out to examine the truck.
Palm Bay fire officials also say the city's other fire engines will be inspected to see if they have similar problems with the chargers. An investigation is ongoing.
Monday's incident was the second blaze to hit a fire station in less than a year. Last May, a Melbourne firefighter cooking French fries left the fryer unattended while responding to a call. No one was hurt but the station's kitchen was damaged.
"The bottom line is that it was an accident and it shows we're not immune," Ginsburg said of Monday's fire.
Ginsburg said he and the other firefighters reported problems with the same truck late Sunday.
"Right after the Super Bowl, we had a medical call but the engine wouldn't start," Ginsburg said. Ginsburg and the others thought the problem was resolved when they were able to go out on another call about 1 a.m.
"When we got back, everything looked normal. The mechanic said he was coming out to see it in the morning," Ginsburg said.
For Matias, who works at MC Assembly in Melbourne, it was chance he witnessed the fire. He was working an overtime shift and was taking a different route to work.
Now the city plans to honor him at the Feb. 17 city council meeting, something the father of a two-year-old son says is unnecessary.
"I'm not a hero," he said.
"It was just the right thing to do."