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Fla. fire crew drills stress safety, survival

TAMPA, Fla. On the day fire claimed the lives of nine firefighters in Charleston, S.C., Tampa’s firefighters were training how to avoid similar catastrophes.

Tampa Fire Rescue started the weeklong training Monday, focusing on survival and safety for firefighters, especially when one is trapped.

Acting Capt. Luann Smith knows what a raging fire can do. The 21-year veteran was off duty when she went to Ybor City for a blaze that engulfed a building. No one was hurt during the fire.

“It’s good to go through these refresher courses,” Smith said. “We were going over a lot when we found out about the tragedy.”

Bill Lingo, a 23-year veteran of Tampa Fire Rescue, drilled safety to firefighters at the Zack Street firehouse on Tuesday. With firefighters carrying equipment weighing more than 100 pounds during fires, Lingo reminded them not to panic.

“There are inherent risks,” Lingo said. “These drills … we want this to be second nature to them. Before we perish, we want to make sure we try everything to get out.”

The last time a Tampa firefighter died battling a blaze was in December 1958 when Andrew Sulli fell from an aerial ladder, Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Capt. Bill Wade said. Sulli was at a window store on West Buffalo Avenue, which was renamed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

It’s training that prevents disasters. Wade said the program that is voluntary elsewhere in the country is mandatory in Tampa. By Friday, all of the city’s 600 firefighters will have gone over the International Fire and EMS Safety Stand Down course.

“The training is held not only to reduce deaths but to reduce injuries,” Wade said.

Tampa Fire Rescue and Hillsborough County Fire Rescue are sending an honor guard to South Carolina when the memorial service is scheduled.