Transformer overheats in Moffitt parking garage

The summer heat may have been to blame for blocked roads at USF Health and the arrival of Tampa Fire Rescue and TECO Energy at a Moffitt Cancer Center parking garage.

A transformer outside an electrical breaker room in the Moffitt Cancer Center parking garage off Holly Drive overheated Friday morning, causing it to emit large quantities of smoke.

According to Jason Penny, Tampa Fire Rescue’s public information officer, Tampa Fire Rescue first received a call at 10:29 a.m. about a tripped fire alarm. However, Penny said once Tampa Fire Rescue was told smoke was pouring out of the garage’s breaker room, they sent three fire engines, a fire truck and a fire rescue vehicle to the scene, which arrived at 10:42 a.m.

Assistant Chief of University Police (UP) Chris Daniel said after receiving a call about smoke coming from the breaker room and confirming there could be a fire, officers blocked off the roads leading to the parking garage until the situation could be dealt with.

Penny said TECO energy workers also arrived at the parking garage, and they were able to cut electricity to the transformer to prevent it from overheating any further, eliminating the fire hazard.

“(Responders) said they don’t know if they saw flames coming from (the transformer) — sometimes those just smoke up,” he said. “They saw heavy smoke damage from it, but once it was de-energized, that was pretty much it,” he said.

Penny said TECO did not leave the parking garage immediately afterward, as another transformer began to heat up after inheriting the electrical burden of the blown transformer. He said this soon stabilized, however, and Tampa Fire Rescue then recalled its remaining fire engine it left in case of another fire. A tweet from the Moffitt Cancer Center reported Tampa Fire Rescue left campus at around 1 p.m.

Penny said Tampa Fire Rescue treated one man for minor injuries at the scene after paramedics found him doubled over in the parking garage. He could not specify the man’s injuries but said they were non-burn related, and the man walked off the scene. Daniel added that UP received a report of someone with smoke inhalation. There were no other reported injuries.

Penny said while Tampa Fire Rescue has not recently responded to electrical fires from Moffitt Cancer Center, this is a very common issue during the summer when there is a larger strain on electrical systems from air conditioners working overtime.

“We probably deal with smoking air handlers that go on the roofs of buildings as often as once every couple of weeks or even more often than that,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for us to respond to things like this.”