3 new squad companies benefit firefighters, community

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Three Jacksonville fire stations have transformed from engine companies to squad companies.

The new squads -- stationed in St. Nicholas, Riverside and the Northside -- were put into place to help firefighters when their lives are on the line, but it also benefits the community.

The man who came up with the idea is Kurtis Wilson, chief of operations for the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department.

He got the idea from a tragedy in Waycross, Ga., in December, when a firefighter lost his life battling a blaze that Wilson said might have been prevented if firefighters had special training and units devoted to saving another firefighter in danger.

"We started looking at our own policies, our procedures in the event something like that happens here," Wilson said. "Are we prepared for it? And we very quickly realized we can do a much better job than where we were at."

The three new squad companies will also benefit residents.

"In the event where you have a car wreck something and (motor vehicle accident) with entrapment, things like that whereas you would initially have to wait on a ladder company to show up in these areas of town, these companies now have the capability to start working and cutting folks out of cars," Wilson said.

Firefighters train for hundreds of hours to join these new squads.

In addition to its regular engine duties, Station 5 in Riverside will assist with Urban Search and Rescue, training people who are trapped; Station 12 in St. Nicholas will assist with Radiation and Hazardous Materials, cleaning up chemicals and other items; and Station 37 on the Northside will help with flammable liquids.

"You'll actually have more firefighters on the scene, and I think that will greatly enhance the service we provide to the citizens," said Randy Wyse, president of Jacksonville fire union.

The squads are designed to increase effectiveness by concentrating specialized personnel and equipment at three locations instead of being scattered throughout the city on different engines.

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