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South Tampa fire station fights not only flames, but bedbugs

TAMPA — They're trained to fight smoke and extinguish flames, but firefighters at Station No. 15 are having a hard time battling something else:

Bedbugs.

Since September, the station near Himes Avenue and Gandy Boulevard in South Tampa has had a bedbug infestation in its sleeping quarters.

Multiple chemical and heat treatments failed to get rid of the bloodsucking pests, said Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Lonnie Benniefield.

The department has closed off the dormitory side of the station while a pest control company tries again. Part of the stepped-up remedy includes ripping up carpet and getting rid of linens.

The three shifts of six firefighters who work from that station have been sleeping on sofas or in sleeping bags on the other side of the building, Benniefield said.

Pest control workers have found only three bedbugs, he said, though more may lie in wait.

"It doesn't mean there's not more there," he said. "They can hide in crevices, they can burrow."

How did they end up there?

Benniefield said that's hard to say, given that firefighters are in and out of homes and hospitals.

"That's going to be hard to pinpoint because of the type of work we do," he said.

No firefighter out of Station 15 has reported a home infestation. Benniefield said he isn't sure if any of the employees have suffered bites.

Bedbugs have been seen in plush hotels, cheap motels, rental cars and moving vans, movie theaters, airplanes and even government buildings.

Though bedbugs feed on human blood, they can't transmit disease.

Reach Jodie Tillman at jtillman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374.

South Tampa fire station fights not only flames, but bedbugs 12/05/11 [Last modified: Monday, December 5, 2011 8:05pm]
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