Crews from Gainesville Fire Rescue (GFR) were alerted to an institutional building fire on the South side of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium; home of the Florida Gators yesterday afternoon.
While responding, University Police stated the smoke was preceded by the sound of an explosion and the Alachua County Dispatch Center advised there were multiple callers confirming heavy Smoke.
GFR Lt. Jeremy Massicotte said when his fire engine turned off Archer Road, onto Gale Lemerand Boulevard, they could see a heavy column of smoke. These indicators sent District Chiefs Don Campbell and Cary Williams into motion preparing for the worst, including injuries to citizens and students who may have been exercising at the Stadium.
This also prompted additional Chiefs from Gainesville Fire Rescue to respond to the scene, expand the Incident Command System, and begin notifications of the City Emergency Operations Center including City Manager Lee Feldman who also responded to the scene.
Local firefighters are very familiar with Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and gathered there Friday to commemorate the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Each year local firefighters and firefighters across the country take part in a stair climb to replicate the 2,226 steps it would’ve taken to make it to the top of the World Trade Center. According to officials, 343 firefighters gave their lives to save others during the attack on the World Trade Center.
Gainesville’s Assistant Fire Chief, Shawn Hillhouse, said the department coordinates year round with University officials and the University Athletic Association to prepare for a multitude of incidents at the stadium and other UF property.
Once on scene fire crews found the smoke was coming from the third level of the South endzone. The crew from GFR’s Tower 2 set up their 100 foot articulating basket to be used as a “standpipe”, a connection for firefighters to attach attack hose with a valve to control water.
Tower 2 is essentially a 100 foot crane designed to support itself, the weight of water in a five inch waterway (Pipe), and the weight of firefighters and victims in the basket. These trucks must also be able to respond to EMS calls and motor vehicle accidents that require the vehicle to be cut away from the occupant.
Gainesville has two tower trucks and two 75 foot “Quints” which have a straight stick ladder for rescue and standpipe operations. GFR’s Quint 9 housed in SW Gainesville is expected to be replaced in early 2021 with a 100 foot straight stick “Ladder truck”. Having these trucks positioned in areas of town that have six story or higher buildings directly relates to insurance premiums paid by property owners.
As Tower 2 started to raise, Firefighters from GFR’s Engine 2 began the climb up the ramps of the stadium to the third level, in gear weighing 50-60 pounds, carrying all the tools they may need, searching as they moved. Once on the third level Engine 2’s firefighters were able to attach their “high-rise pack”, fire hose made to be hooked into a standpipe designed into high-rise buildings, to the basket raised by Tower2. This allowed them to quickly get unlimited water to an elevated and remote area of the stadium to extinguish the fire. Chief Hillhouse says that high-rise operations are becoming more common as Gainesville builds more six story buildings and the department’s officers are in the process of re-writing the operating guidelines for this tactic.
Once crews had the fire out, the seat of the fire was determined to be a tractor used to maintain the field. According to the dispatch recordings from the time that GFR crews were notified until the fire was out was only 14 minutes. This includes 90 seconds for crews to don their protective fire gear and four minutes to respond from the station to the scene.
This left eight and 1/2 minutes for crews to search to the seat of the fire on the 3rd level of the stadium, raise the tower, deploy attack hoses, and extinguish the fire. City Manager Lee Feldman said “everyone was working, it was a great effort”.
The cause of the fire is under investigation by the State Fire Marshal’s office since the fire occurred on State property. Chief Hillhouse expanded that even though the University is State property, GFR is the First Response Fire, EMS, HazMat, and technical rescue agency for UF and that it’s common for GFR’s fire, EMS units, and specialty teams to respond to areas in the City, County, and regionally.
With the fire out, Dan Mullen, head coach of the Gators took to Twitter saying “You know the Gators are gonna be on fire this year. But we still have 2 weeks til kickoff”.