On The Job - Florida: Multi-Alarm Fire Destroys Polk County Warehouse

Jay K. Bradish reports that training in deploying handlines deep into large buildings let interior crews in an exposure quickly deploy an effective defense against a spreading fire.


On Monday, Feb. 11, 2008, a multiple-alarm fire destroyed a 97,440-square-foot warehouse at the Central Florida Business Park in Polk County, FL. The one-story structure was built in 1974 of Type I construction with a metal roof on metal trusses and was equipped with an automatic sprinkler system...


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Later, aerial ladders were repositioned to focus master streams onto the fire wall. Lakeland Engine 21 was positioned on the D/A corner to protect two exposures on side D and to operate on the seat of the fire. Engine 21 was supplied by a 400-foot, five-inch line. This engine placed its 50-foot TeleSqurt and a 200-foot, 2½-inch attack line into operation to protect the exposures. These exposures were manufactured buildings of lightweight construction used for offices. Later that night, a fourth ladder, Polk County Aerial Platform 1, was positioned on side D on a separate water system. This aerial was able to protect a portion of the fire wall that could not be reached by the aerials on side A. Bartow Ladder 1 was released at this time. Polk County Ladder 3 was requested at 9:40 and assigned to overnight operations.

Battalion Chief Dan Bartle declared the fire under control at 12:14 P.M. on Feb. 16. Mutual aid units were released throughout the night. The last Polk County units left the scene at 8 A.M. on Feb. 17. Firefighters responded with six engines; four ladders; one rescue and one tanker. Six hydrants on the municipal water system were used to supply 1,384,000 gallons of water needed to extinguish the fire. Firefighters encountered windy conditions during the early hours of the incident with gusts up to 30 mph.

An investigation by the Florida State Fire Marshal's Office and Travelers Insurance Co. is still ongoing at this time. Damage was estimated at $1 million to the building and $20 million to the contents.

Even though the building contained fire-pump-supported automatic fire sprinklers, they can be ineffective in containing a fire. Never let them give you a false sense of security. Limited-access roadways within the industrial park caused apparatus positioning problems once five-inch supply lines were laid. An off-duty battalion chief came up with an innovative solution to use two forklifts to raise a five-inch line to let a fuel truck enter the area and refuel apparatus.

The quick call for a second alarm and the initial orders to go with master streams was an important factor is saving the B exposure. Initial defensive operations with aerial ladders operating horizontally through loading docks were successful.

Several years ago, Polk County started a plan to standardize apparatus. All apparatus now carry five-inch supply lines, most have deck-mounted deluge guns and many carry small 600-gpm portable monitors. The small, lightweight ground monitors were an effective means to get large (500-gpm) streams into operation quickly with little manpower.

Recent training in deploying hand-lines deep into large buildings allowed the interior crews in exposure B to quickly deploy an effective defense against the spreading fire. Also, a strong fire prevention division has helped to ensure adequate fire hydrants and fire protection systems. Even though it appears the sprinkler system failed or was overrun, it worked by first reporting the fire and then protecting the side-B exposure in the event the fire breached the fire wall.

JAY K. BRADISH/IFPA, Firehouse® news editor, is a former captain in the Bradford Township, PA, Fire Department. He has been a volunteer firefighter and fire photographer for more than 25 years.