TAMPA — Tampa Fire Rescue had 143 firefighters on duty Wednesday morning.
At least 100 of them had a part in extinguishing a blaze that burned for hours on a 742-foot ship at the Port of Tampa.
The main reason for the unusually high manpower: the need to rotate firefighters under a sweltering summer sun that sent five of them to a hospital for heat exhaustion.
Imagine piling on 50 to 60 pounds of equipment, covering every inch of your skin and climbing 40 feet on a day when the heat index is pushing 108, Capt. Mark Bogush said.
Firefighter Brian Duke did it. The flames were hot. The water was hot. He had to take three breaks to cool off.
The fire was out by 1 p.m. No injuries were reported.
The blaze started sometime before 9 a.m., when some of the 32 crew members with the Liberian-flagged Sophie Olendorff noticed smoke coming from a conveyer belt that had been off-loading rock and gravel for about a day. They tried to fight the fire, but realized they needed help.
When rescue crews responded, they faced several challenges, said Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Bill Wade.
The first was access, with the fire-damaged conveyor belt arm hanging high above the dock. Then there was the nearby sulfuric acid pipeline that, though not in use, was still a threat.
Then a power line on the dock fell onto a fence and started several small grass fires. Crews had to protect themselves from the downed line until Tampa Electric workers arrived.
The Patriot, the department's new fireboat, passed its first test, shooting 6,000 gallons of water every minute.
The blaze sent a huge plume of smoke above the port that was visible for miles. Hillsborough County Fire Rescue helped cover city calls as Tampa firefighters rushed to protect the ship.
The conveyor was destroyed, but the ship remained intact.
The five-alarm fire finally surrendered after a four-hour fight.
Said Capt. Bogush: "It felt like days."
Times staff writer Katie Sanders and Danny Valentine contributed to this report.