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Dunedin hopes garbage truck fires serve as wake-up call for trash customers

The fires happened because hazardous, flammable materials were improperly placed in trash carts
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Posted at 8:08 AM, Aug 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-02 08:18:34-04

DUNEDIN, Fla. — It took just seconds. As the driver of a Dunedin garbage truck compacted a load of trash on July 19, flames ignited in the back of his truck.

The truck’s onboard cameras captured the close call and the driver’s quick response.

“He detected it,” said Bill Pickrum, the City of Dunedin’s Solid Waste Division Director. “He pulled in the middle of the street. He compacted his load. He was able to stay composed. He exited the truck, got the fire extinguisher, and extinguished it all within two minutes.”

To Pickrum, the scary incident highlights a problem. Some people are throwing away flammable materials that don’t belong in the curbside garbage carts. Those hazardous materials include stuff like fuels and accelerants, propane tanks, pool chemicals, lithium-ion batteries, auto/marine batteries, paint products, yard products, antifreeze, household chemicals, and mercury-containing items.

“It could be the flammables from the everyday household chemicals, which you typically store underneath the kitchen sink,” said Pickrum.

According to Pickrum, the fire on July 19 was sparked by discarded gasoline stored in two laundry detergent bottles, and that garbage truck fire was not the only one Dunedin has experienced.

“Unfortunately, it happens,” said Pickrum. “We’ve seen it quite frequently. Runs in spurts.”

Citronella tiki torch fuel was blamed for a separate garbage truck fire just one week later in the back of the same truck.

Both cases put the driver and almost brand-new automated side-arm truck at risk.

“Three months old,” said Pickrum. “That truck is worth about $400,000 in today’s price tag.”

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He said the incidents could have impacted the entire city’s pick-up schedule, which is why Pickrum hopes the city’s solid waste customers will do the right thing with flammable, hazardous waste and dispose of it at Pinellas County’s various collection locations or events. More information can be found at this link.

While the Pinellas County Department of Solid Waste hasn’t suffered a similar fire in recent memory, a spokesperson said the county nearly did when an improperly discarded rechargeable battery was accidentally run over by heavy equipment at the waste disposal complex. According to Pinellas County, those batteries can explode when compressed and should be brought to the county’s collection sites for hazardous materials.

Hillsborough County Solid Waste, though, has documented two garbage truck-load fires in the past year due to improper disposal, according to Collection Manager Damien Tramel. He too encourages residents to use the county’s various drop-off sites. More information for Hillsborough County residents can be found at this link.

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Polk, Pasco, Manatee, Sarasota, Hernando, and Citrus counties also offer similar services.