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On a fairly quiet, mostly residential neighborhood street stands one of College Park’s most essential — and cherished — structures. Located across from the Princeton Elementary School carpool lane on Elizabeth Avenue is the firehouse, Station 3 of the Orlando Fire Department. Officially nicknamed the “Knights of College Park,” the firefighters of Station 3 shop at Publix, host October Fire Prevention Month activities at the station and in local schools, routinely give impromptu tours of the huge fire engine and provide critical care for the area by fighting fires and providing rescue operations as first responders.
A decade ago, the local firehouse was considered a slow station, but today, the College Park neighborhood firehouse is much busier protecting what the city considers “one of the highest valued districts in Orlando” (http://www.cityoforlando.net/fire/station-3/).
“There’s a lot of character to this station. It’s an older building, but there’s a lot of history here,” said District 3 Chief Jeffrey Day, who is in charge of three firehouses. Constructed in 1972, the current facility replaced the original Fire Station 3, which stood near Dade Street on Orlando Avenue from 1926 until it became the Randall R. Tuten Orlando Fire Museum after the city moved it to Loch Haven Park.
While located in the heart of College Park, the fire station covers a wide geographic area with dense population, including residential and commercial buildings, high-rises and many lakes. “The Florida Hospital complex is a huge world in itself,” Day said.
From calls for accidents and rescue needs on I-4 to jurisdiction over Edgewater High School and Bishop Moore Catholic High School, the firefighters of Station 3 have seen a significant increase in call volume.
Engineer Terry Gray said there has been a big difference in the number of calls the station responds to every day. Ten years ago, the station would get seven calls over two to three days. “We had seven calls just today,” Gray said.
In 2016, the Knights of College Park responded to 28 fire calls and 1,437 emergency medical service (EMS) rescue calls.
Firefighting services are also impacted by the new higher-density development in the area such as the Wellesley condominiums and the new Princeton apartment project under construction. Traditionally, the Station 3 staff schedules a walkthrough of in-progress buildings, such as The Princeton complex, once construction is further along.
Chief Day said that though there are not many high-rise fire incidents, “We are all trained for high-rises. Learning the new building is important to us, and being able to adequately respond to any calls that we may get from those buildings. We all go through quarterly training; everyone has to be prepared for any type of structure within the city, whether residential, high-rise, commercial, whatever it may be.”
Four years ago, all 17 Orlando fire stations took over emergency medical transport duties, which private ambulances used to provide within the city. “It’s a dramatic change in our operation,” Day said. The firefighters formerly responded and treated people, but now they also take them to the hospitals, he explained.
The15 firefighters on staff at Station 3 (two women and 13 men, from early 20s to 53 years old) work in three shifts — A, B and C. They work 24 hours on duty and have 48 hours off. Three firefighters operate the fire engine, and two are assigned to the rescue truck. The vehicles, tucked behind two enormous bay doors, are ready to go at a moment’s notice.
The size of the staff has not changed in many years, nor has the size of the station. “This is one of the few neighborhood stations left,” Day said. The staff enjoys a tight camaraderie with the community.
Engineer Clint Broda said, “The folks in College Park interact with us. They wave when they are driving by, going to school, when we’re out washing the vehicles in the morning. We love it here. We have a very good relationship with the community.”
Every Tuesday morning for many years, a neighbor has delivered desserts to the station. According to Gray, the firefighters are approached by families every time they are in Publix, he said, and told how appreciated they are. “They thank us,” he said, and the firefighters often invite children to look into the fire engine and sit in the driver’s seat. “There’s a lot of pride in being a firefighter.”
According to Orlando Fire Department Public Information Manager Ashley Papagni, “There are thousands of hidden stories of firefighters going above and beyond the call of duty.” She mentioned an incident when College Park firefighters were on a “smoke alarm blitz” going into residents’ homes for fire safety checks, and they also fixed a window in an elderly resident’s home.
“There are so many times when they run one call and it turns into a completely different incident,” Papagni said, “because they go the extra mile to do some investigative work that you would see as a safety hazard. They are very thorough.”
According to Chief Day, “It’s part of their nature. The makeup of a firefighter includes a high degree of empathy. People call us to fix their problems. It’s not beyond these guys and gals when they respond, and show up, that they look around, and if they recognize something that is not taken care of, they check up on these folks.”
“We’re one of the professions that grade school kids still want to be,” Chief Day said. “And we’re all still that same kid. We all still like to sit and look at the fire truck!”