JFRD chief on cargo ship explosion: 'We came very close to losing some firefighters’

All but 2 of 9 firefighters injured Thursday evening out of hospital

All but 2 of 9 firefighters injured Thursday evening out of hospital

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Five days after nine Jacksonville firefighters were injured battling a huge blaze inside a car-carrier ship docked at Blount Island Marine Terminal, all but two are out of the hospital.

Eight members of Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department were among dozens trying to find the fire inside the Norwegian ship loaded with used vehicles on Thursday afternoon when there was an explosion. The firefighters escaped the ship with their lives, but with burns to their heads and hands.

JFRD Chief Keith Powers was there as the explosion happened.

“To see them start to come off that ship and seeing those burns and one of them with a nasty orthopedic injury to his arm -- it crushed me," Powers said Monday.

Powers said it’s a miracle the eight men caught in that explosion survived.

“We came very close to losing some firefighters the other night," Powers said. “There had to be something to save some of those people from losing their lives, and God is the reason that is.”

As of Monday, two firefighters were still in the hospital, undergoing skin grafting surgeries in the burn unit at UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville.

JFRD continues to pour water on the outside of the ship, trying to cool the hull from the 1,000-degree heat measured inside so the steel doesn’t buckle.

Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters, said being inside that ship would’ve been similar to being in an oven, but their gear helped protect most of their bodies.

“I think one thing to look at is our gear. All the burns are very similar as it relates to our gear and I think our gear did a phenomenal job in an atmosphere that can cause burns," Wyse said.

Wyse is concerned that all of the firefighters involved may also have mental scars of trauma from this life-changing moment.

“I will tell you most all of them that I talked to have told me they felt like 'that’s where I was going to die,’” Wyse said.

A ninth firefighter was hospitalized for heat exhaustion.

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Sky 4 over burning cargo ship

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, there are still hotspots inside the ship, but the flames aboard the car carrier are under control, contained to the upper levels of the 15-deck ship.

“They’ve actually been able to access the lower levels now,” said Coast Guard Capt. Mark Vlaun.

That allows fire crews to begin the process of reaching hotspots inside.

So far, according to the Coast Guard, chemicals and fuel have not leaked from the ship into the water,

The Coast Guard, National Transportation Safety Board and state of Florida are investigating the cause of the fire.

Powers wants his team to learn from this moment, too. He as created a five-person committee of JFRD chiefs to review what happened and make recommendations on lessons learned.

Powers said the fireman are recovering and many of them are already talking about coming back to work. One will actually return to the job for a shift Saturday.

All but 2 of 9 firefighters injured Thursday evening out of hospital

About the Authors:

16-year veteran journalist and Emmy Award winning anchor

Joy Purdy co-anchors the 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. newscasts with Tarik Minor and the 11 p.m. weeknight newscasts with Kent Justice.