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Tampa Fla--2 Alarm Apartment Fire--Chief Asks for Investigation of Outcome

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  • captstanm1
    Additional Story

    St. Petersburg Times--Hillsborough

    City fire captain punished for error
    The crew leader is suspended for failing to properly inspect an alarm at an apartment complex, leading to a fire.
    By KATHRYN WEXLER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 24, 2003

    TAMPA - A Tampa Fire Rescue captain will be disciplined for not getting out of his fire engine to investigate an alarm at an apartment complex that later turned out to be smoldering from a lightning bolt.

    A half-hour after Capt. Ronald Taylor and Engine 19 left Camden Bayside apartments, on S West Shore Boulevard, flames shot out of a third-floor apartment and a second crew came to the scene. The apartment burned, and two more suffered water damage from sprinklers, a loss totaling about $200,000.

    Taylor will be suspended for a 24-hour shift, equivalent to three days docked pay.

    The incident has prompted Tampa Fire Rescue Chief Aria Green to reassess all policies governing fire alarm responses. Until the Camden fire, the department had no explicit policy requiring firefighters to get out of their vehicles and inspect a property for fire.

    On July 8, Taylor, a 25-year veteran, relied on the opinion of a Camden maintenance supervisor who walked up to the fire engine and said there was no fire. Engine 19 was at the complex for a total of six minutes.

    Although standard operating procedures don't spell it out, firefighters know they need to perform their own inspections, Green said.

    "It's kind of understood you need to get out of the truck and use your senses," Green said Wednesday during a press conference at Tampa Fire Rescue headquarters downtown.

    In some instances, however, firefighters are allowed to rely on the assessment of others. The University of South Florida has many false fire alarms, Green said, and firefighters generally depend on campus police to tell them whether there's a fire.

    "Maybe we allow that (trust) to carry over to people we shouldn't be trusting," Green said.

    Taylor has never before been disciplined, and his evaluations have been above average, Green said. The captain is "very remorseful," for what happened, Green said.

    But according to a report by Michael Gonzalez, then-fire investigations supervisor who has since been promoted, it's not clear that even if Taylor had looked, he would have seen evidence of lightning on the roof of the three-floor complex and the smoldering beneath. Said Green, "If he'd gone and investigated it, he may not have found it, but we don't know that."

    Two days after the incident, the department issued a memo to staff, telling them to investigate fires with "the use of your senses of sight, smell, hearing and feeling." Green said that will be the new policy.Taylor was cited for violating generic policies about investigating non-apparent fires, and general conduct and duties.

    Green also said that even when alarm companies inform Tampa Fire Rescue that alarms are false, firefighters will inspect the scene. He said the new policy will not overly tax personnel, although officials have long complained they don't have enough firefighters to properly staff the engines.

    Firefighters frequently respond to automatic alarms, many of them tripped by a mere break in electricity due to a storm. Last month, there were more than 500 automatic alarms throughout the city.

    Green said that "99.9 percent of the time, it's nothing."

    Tampa Fire Rescue released an incident inquiry to reporters Wednesday showing that at Camden apartments, 6301 West Shore Blvd., there were at least 34 instances of false alarms or alarm system malfunctions since June 2001.

    Still, Green extended his apologies to residents of Camden.

    "We're very sorry in this particular instance that we did not do the job that we should have done," the chief said.

    - Kathryn Wexler can be reached at [email protected] or 226-3383.

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  • captstanm1
    Captain Suspended

    Bay News 9

    Longtime Tampa Fire Rescue supervisor suspended following apartment fire

    From now on Tampa Fire Rescue crews will thoroughly check out all alarms, even ones sent in error. Tampa Fire Rescue made a mistake.

    That's what officials with the department said in a news conference held at 4 p.m. on Wednesday. As a result Captain Ron Taylor will be suspended for without pay for 24 hours, the equivalent of one shift.

    Taylor was in charge of Engine 19 when it arrived at the Camden Bayside Apartments at approximately 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday, July 8. Shortly after they arrived, the firefighters left because they didn’t see any fire or smell any smoke.

    Soon after Engine 19 departed the scene, Building 7 at the housing complex became engulfed in flames. Another crew, Engine 15, arrived approximately 50 minutes after Taylor and his crew left.

    By that time it was too late. Three units in the building were destroyed.

    The Camden Bayside fire took place on July 8.
    Investigators believe a bolt of lightning started the fire and triggered the alarm.

    At Wednesday’s news conference Tampa Fire Rescue Chief Aria Green announced the incident and subsequent investigation would lead to a change in policy.

    "From now on we will check out all fire alarms, false or not," Green said. "In the past if it was determined that they were set off in error, we will still go to the scene and check them out."

    Three of the four units in Building 7 were damaged.
    Taylor, a 25-year veteran firefighter, has an impeccable reputation and spotless record.

    The building at Camden Bayside suffered approximately $200,000 in damage. Most of it was suffered by one of the top floor units where the lightning struck the roof.

    The two bottom apartments suffered extensive water damage.

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  • Bones42
    TIC's are a great thing....but they only work when you get off the truck to use them. Not too much good sitting in the parking lot.

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  • captstanm1
    Letter to the Editor

    A Tampa Fire Department Lieutenant wrote this letter to the editor.


    Tampa Tribune

    New Equipment Needed

    Published: Jul 19, 2003

    The article ``Building Burns After Fire Crews Check Once'' (Metro, July 10) reveals procedural areas in which Tampa Fire Rescue should improve; however, the presumption that fire crews are casual and inattentive when investigating an automatic fire alarm is false.
    Lightning strikes and automatic fire alarms are a common occurrence in the Tampa Bay area during the summer months and create high call volume during thunderstorms.

    False alarms from lightning strikes, power surges or human error are frequently the cause for automatic fire alarms, and information gathered at the scene from a credible source, such as a maintenance worker, police officer or a home owner, is usually sufficient to mitigate the situation.

    Furthermore, smoldering fires are difficult to detect and often are hidden in the confines of an attic, compounding the situation.

    While Tampa Fire Rescue re- examines procedural guidelines for automatic fire alarms, the city of Tampa should reconsider a request for thermal imaging cameras capable of detecting hidden hot spots, such as smoldering attic fires. These cameras would improve the ability of fire crews to discover hidden fires, minimizing property damage and saving lives.

    Firefighters in the city of Tampa are dedicated professionals who put their lives in harm's way to protect the citizens of this community. Tampa Fire Rescue responds to more than 6,000 automatic fire alarms per year with very few problems. However, this one incident gives the department an opportunity to re- examine standard operating guidelines for automatic fire alarms and the city of Tampa a chance to improve services through the purchase of thermal imaging cameras.<


    The writer is a lieutenant with Tampa Fire Rescue.

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  • Tampa Fla--2 Alarm Apartment Fire--Chief Asks for Investigation of Outcome

    According to 11:00 PM News...here is the sequence of events.

    -Lightning Strikes
    -Building Fire Alarm Activated
    -Occupants smell smoke and dial 911
    -FD Responds
    -As they arrive Maintenance Workers says no problem
    -They clear
    -1 hour later the Fire Department returns to a working fire that results in 2 alarms and $200,000.00 in damage.

    The new Chief (Chief Aria Green) who has been at the helm for less than a months wants to know Why

    I have attached the story below but here is the link that contains video


    Chief seeks investigation of Tampa firefighters' response to alarm
    It took two alarms to get an engine company to put out a fire at an apartment complex.
    By BABITA PERSAUD, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 10, 2003

    TAMPA - A red hydrant sits outside Building 7 at Camden Bayside apartments on West Shore Boulevard, but firefighters didn't use it Tuesday at 6:45 p.m. when responding to a fire alarm.

    Instead, they left.

    An hour later, three apartments were on fire.

    Now, Tampa Fire Rescue Chief Aria Green is calling for an investigation.

    He wants to know why the captain of Engine 19 didn't check the fire alarm.

    "We have to determine if his actions were appropriate or not," Green said Wednesday. "At first blush, I would think that they were not appropriate."

    Firefighters are supposed to get out of the truck when checking an alarm. It is believed these firefighters did not.

    They are supposed to check out the alarm panel, Green said, and "Try to find out what is causing the system to go into alarm."

    They are also supposed to talk to residents and see if they smell smoke.

    The officer in charge of Engine 19, whose name is not being released, could face disciplinary action, Green said.

    But he might not be totally at fault.

    Residents say that when Engine 19 arrived on scene, Camden maintenance worker Joe Hailey told them everything was under control. The firefighters left shortly afterwards, they said.

    When reached at Camden's leasing office Wednesday, Hailey declined comment.

    Green said he is researching the maintenance worker's involvement, but said Engine 19's personnel still should have checked out the alarm. He said the investigation should be finished by Friday.

    The fire likely started with a loud lightning clap around 6:45 p.m. Tuesday.

    Carli Segelson, 26, was in her third floor apartment at Camden Bayside, 6301 S West Shore Boulevard, with her friend and next door neighbor, Elizabeth Malm, 24.

    Segelson was trying on a suit she bought at Ann Taylor. A studio operator at WTSP Ch. 10, she wants someday to be a reporter and was working on a studio tape.

    Then, she became news.

    After the loud clap, the lights went off in her bedroom. She flipped a switch in the fuse box "and it was fine, or so we thought," she said.

    Instantly, she smelled smoke and sulfur, she said.

    Her friend Malm went outside in the rain with an umbrella. "We wanted to know if we should call the fire department," said Malm.

    But Engine 19, responding to an automatic fire alarm, was already there.

    So were several residents and Hailey, the maintenance worker. He showed the residents a light in the stairwell, which was charred and black, and told Segelson and Malm that the light blew and that's why they smelled smoke.

    The women saw Hailey talking to firefighters and then the residents saw the firefighters drive off.

    "From what we saw, they never got off the truck," said Malm.

    Segelson, who said she still smelled smoke, went back to her apartment. Twenty minutes later, "I heard a crackling sound." She went outside and looked up "and I could see flames going all across."

    She knocked on her neighbor's door. "The building's on fire," she said. "We need to get out of here."

    Segelson called 911. This time, Engine 15 came out within seven minutes, at 7:40 p.m. "They were awesome," she said. "They helped us out a lot."

    Damage is estimated at $200,000, most occurring to Segelson's living room and kitchen and the roof of Building 7. Two lower level apartments had water damage. About half a dozen residents spent the night at a hotel Tuesday.

    "It is disturbing that firefighters didn't check out anything the first time," said Segelson, standing among the rubble in her apartment Wednesday. "The whole thing could have been prevented."
    Last edited by captstanm1; 07-24-2003, 09:13 AM.

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