TAMPA, Fla. — Hillsborough County is one of the fastest-growing counties in Florida. Due to this growth, the fire department has observed an increase in the construction of multiple-story buildings.

What You Need To Know

  • Due to population growth, the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Department has observed an increase in the construction of multiple-story buildings

  • The department is making significant efforts to enhance its training program for potential hazards related taller buildings and electric car fires

  • The training sessions let firefighters gain some much-needed practice

  • Firefighters are evolving by using the latest techniques to effectively save both property and lives

To better prepare for emergencies in the ever-changing infrastructure of the county, the Hillsborough County Fire Department is making significant efforts to enhance its training program for potential hazards related to taller buildings and electric car fires.

A recent exercise had the department conduct a drill at the parking garage of HCA Florida Brandon Hospital, led by Battalion Chief Micah King. It presents a logistical challenge.

“They have two parking garages here and both create some challenges for us just because of the logistics of it,” King said. “We're unable to get the fire apparatus onto the upper floors here. So what we actually have to do is use their standpipe system, which they have in these parking garages, and we'll utilize them or just utilize water straight off of the fire truck.”

The simulation involves a car fire in a multi-story building. 

“We want to minimize the time that these guys do these jobs,” he said. “This is an everyday occurrence. We run a car fire and we want to just make sure that they're honed in on their skills and that time is of the essence that they're able to lead this operation with the least amount of time.”

Firefighter Rob Herrin said that they are also learning how to adapt to different hazards.

“Car fires in a garage are pretty nasty because there is nowhere for the smoke to go,” Herrin said.

Litium-ion batteries can cause car fires to continue burning for hours and require more water than usual to extinguish. Hillsborough County fire engines are equipped with up to 750 gallons of water, and crews have access to more than 100 feet of hose to combat these fires.

“This is an evolution that you can kind of stamp it and carry it forward to other places that have the standpipe set up into either taller buildings where we're not going to be able to lay, you know, hose up to the 10th floor of a building,” he said. “We will carry it. We'll carry that hose line and connect it to their pipe and then lay it out on the floor of the residence if it's an apartment or whatever it is.”

Infrastructure in Hillsborough County is evolving, with Tampa Bay issuing the second most construction permits in Florida this year. Many are building upwards.

“We do have growth everywhere, particularly in the south and eastern part of the county.” Herrin said. “This lets our firefighters gain some much-needed practice and some skills that we don't get to practice a lot.” 

Herrin says that these exercises enhance teamwork and can be applied both in the field and at the firehouse.

“Yes, you do get to be something bigger,” he said. “So be part of something bigger than you. But, you're also at while you're helping, this is the community and you're a community servant. You're also establishing relationships that are a lifetime.”

Herrin emphasizes that as the county changes and grows, firefighters will also evolve by using the latest techniques to effectively save both property and lives.

The National Fire Protection Association notes a significant decrease in the number of volunteer and career firefighters. To attract younger individuals to the profession, Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue intends to share their training sessions on social media.