JFRD: Backdraft knocked crews off their feet

Firefighters learn important lessons during Monday's fire


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The State Fire Marshal's Office says the cause of a fire at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant on University Boulevard on Monday was accidental, probably electrical in nature, in wiring in an interior column.

"It knocked several of our firefighters off their feet, onto the ground, but luckily they had their protective equipment on and there were no injuries," said JFRD Division Chief Chip Drysdale.

The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department said there were no warning signs of a backdraft Monday as it worked to put out the fire. JFRD explained to Channel 4 that when a backdraft happens, a fire is lacking oxygen. Once oxygen is introduced to the flames, the fire ignites and explodes. JFRD said that's exactly what happened Monday night at KFC.

"It happened so early in the fire that we didn't have the initial signs of buildup that would've given us warning," said Drysdale.

Drysdale told Channel 4 that the backdraft inside the KFC sent six JFRD firefighters running, over fear that the roof could cave in during the attic fire.

"Typically what we look for in a back draft is an inward movement of smoke trying to breathe, and it'll puff out," said Drysdale. "The color of the smoke will give us an indication that it's a backdraft, and what we were met with initially were light smoke conditions, low heat, but the fire could've been well involved for a time in the walls and the attic."

The rare occurrence blew shards of glass and debris more than 100 feet from the busy fast food restaurant.  A handful of employees rounded up customers and escaped fast moving flames on Monday, which took fire crews, nearly an hour to contain.

"They go through extensive training," Drysdale said. The problem is that a fire is a dynamic force and we're always trying to stay ahead of it, but if we get there and it's already heavily involved, we have to react to it."

Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters, said a flash-over could have easily made the situation worse, and injured a firefighter. Wyse believes this incident is proof that training pays off.

"Yeah, you know, if you have some younger firefighters, maybe they've never experienced something like this or seen it," Wyse said. "That you will take them aside and go look, this is what happened. We saw this and we saw this, and this is what can happen."

Wyse said ventilation is the most important thing when dealing with a situation like the one at the KFC Monday. Firefighters had to cut a hole in the roof of the restaurant to allow the heated gasses and smoke to blow out of the building.

There are no damage estimates yet.