Fire scare at PortMiami's tunnel project tests emergency response crews

Call appeared to have been false alarm

By Christina Vazquez - Reporter

MIAMI - A fire scare at PortMiami's tunnel project put emergency response crews to the test Thursday.

Ignatius Carroll of Miami Fire Rescue told Local 10's Christina Vazquez a call came in on Thursday from someone identifying themselves as a security guard. The person reported they saw smoke, flames and people being evacuated.

Once crews arrived, however, they said they did not spot anything after making two trips into the tunnel currently under construction, which spans from Dodge Island where PortMiami is located, to Watson Island where Miami Children's Museum and Jungle Island are located.

Officials said it appeared to have been a false alarm. They said they are now trying to find the caller.

Crews said this was the first time they have responded to a call of a live fire at the new Port Tunnel. The incident showed how fire crews had planned to respond to emergencies in the location.

Local 10 has learned in the event of a fire, the City of Miami will respond to Watson Island because that is in their jurisdiction. Miami-Dade County Fire is across Government Cut on the Dodge Island side, which they patrol.

Carroll said the way it worked is the 911 call was dispatched to their department. Afterwards, they then called Miami-Dade County Fire to coordinate the response.

Carroll added that several other departments have been trained on knowledge of the tunnel to include Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, Coral Gables, and even Hialeah. Thus, in the event it was a "catastrophic" situation, multiple departments could step in and assist.

"Fires in a tunnel are a scary thing," said Carroll. "That's why the mammoth machine boring its way underwater to create the tunnel is equipped with an emergency escape station."

Local 10's Christina Vazquez showed viewers the so-called "refuge station" back in November of 2011 in the first of several Local 10 exclusive reports about this historic project.

In the story, Vazquez walked viewers through the "refuge station", which is a compartment built to hold an entire shift's worth of crew members. Inside they have access to the outside world through built-in communications equipment. That is where tunnel workers would have escaped to had there been an actual fire in the tunnel.

RELATED: Cameras go inside Port of Miami tunnel

Just this week in an exclusive report, Local 10's Glenna Milberg showed viewers what crews are doing right now to apply a fire proof coating to the fire-resistant concrete, a lesson learned after a fire in the Alps back in 1999.

Crews are also building pedestrian walkways, vents along the ceiling to control air flow and escape passages from one tunnel to the next every 450 feet. All measures that could be activated for evacuation and responding crews in the event of a fire once the tunnel is operational which is expected to be in May of 2014.

RELATED: Crews safe-proof PortMiami tunnel

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