INDIAN SHORES – What appeared to be a serious incident on Gulf Boulevard in mid-August, one that had the neighbors buzzing, was in fact training for the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue Department.
The training took place at an abandoned motel at 18800 Gulf Blvd. The building was slated for demolition so the owner, Bob Lyons of Sun West Construction, approached the fire department and asked if they could use the place before he tore it down. They said yes.
“Getting buildings like that is absolutely critical for our ongoing training,” said PSFRD Assistant Chief John Mortellite. “Getting to train on site like that is a lot more realistic than our ‘drill-downs.’”
Drill-downs take place every three months at a county facility on 49th Street, where local fire departments go to train. That training is mandatory for the department to get a certificate to operate.
Mortellite said the type of training they did at the old motel was something they could not replicate anywhere else.
“We did wall-breaching, firefighter and victim removal, roof ventilation and rapid prevention training,” he said. “It is all geared toward firefighter safety and survival.”
Wall-breaching is a skill a firefighter has to know in case he or she gets trapped in a room with no way out. They are taught how to get through a solid wall between the studs and into another room and safety.
Roof ventilation involves cutting holes in the roof to allow the smoke and heat to escape thereby making it easier for those inside to fight the fire.
Rapid prevention is when a team of firefighters stay outside a burning building ready to quickly intervene if anyone gets trapped inside. That process could involve switching air tanks and masks.
“It all makes it safer for the crews inside,” said Mortellite.
For his part Lyons, the owner and developer of the old motel, helping the fire department was something close to home and something he wanted to do.
“Several of my family members are first responders,” he said. “This training is important to them. Firefighters aren’t static, they have to learn how to go in under pressure and I hope this helps.”
“We seem to take our firefighters and EMT’s for granted, the only time we have anything to say is when they are late arriving,” said Lyons.
Allowing the fire department use of his abandoned building wasn’t just a matter of handing it over. Lyons had to meet some government regulations.
“We needed to get clearance from the Department of Environmental Protection,” he said. “We had to clear out the asbestos in the building and that meant hiring qualified people to do it. It cost us $25,000.”
Admittedly, he would have had to do that before demolition could begin, but getting it ready for the firefighters meant he had to get it done earlier than intended.
“The DEP would not have allowed us to give it to the Fire Department if it wasn’t done,” he said.
Lyons said he has done this in the past with other buildings that he has owned. The most recent was in Madeira Beach. He says he won’t stop helping.
“I will do it again no matter what city I’m in,” he said. “I’ve never been turned down. They are always happy to get a building to work out of although in this case I’m sure they wish it happened in the winter.”
Mortellite said no matter when it is they are always happy to get a building for training. They are grateful.
“We reached out to the owner and told him how much we appreciate it,” he said.
By now the building at 18800 Gulf Blvd. is just a memory, it has been demolished and in the New Year Lyons hopes to begin construction on a new condo building on the site. It will be called Palazzo Del Sol and will contain seven units.
Even as the new building rises, the final memory of the old one contains thoughts of having done something valuable.
“It was good for the public,” said Lyons. “The better trained the firefighters are the safer it is for us.