Dunedin residents urged not to litter hazardous items after two garbage truck fires

Throwing the wrong things in the trash could cause a dangerous fire. It happened twice in two weeks last month in the back of a garbage truck in Dunedin.

The city of Dunedin is reminding everyone there are things that don’t belong in your curbside bins.

Bob Fichtner worked for 17 years as a garbage truck driver in Dunedin. Fichtner maneuvers the massive handgun truck through the streets, constantly alert and cautious.

“There are cameras all around the trucks,” Fichtner said. “There are four or five cameras. You can look all around the truck.”

Those cameras were rolling on July 19 when his usual route took a detour. Flames erupted as Fichtner compacted a load of trash, and the fire continued to burn as he calmly stopped the truck, grabbed the extinguisher, and put out the blaze.

“Most of the time they don’t go out that quickly, especially if it’s gasoline or any other combustible material that could ignite,” he said.

Officials said someone threw a detergent bottle filled with gasoline. It spilled all over his back and a minute later started the fire.

The following week, on the same street, it happened again. Fichtner’s trash load caught fire a second time, and city officials said tiki citronella torch oil was to blame. Fichtner was able to compact the debris to extinguish anything that was burning.

“There was a lot of smoke. And I guess there’s also fire in there to smoke it,” he said.

Two fires, two weeks in a row, endangering the driver and the brand new truck.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, working as a garbage collector is the sixth most dangerous job in the country due to fatal work accidents. This is why Dunedin Solid Waste ensures that employees receive regular training.

“A lot of our policies, our safety policies and our regulations are about making sure everyone is doing what they’re supposed to do,” said Dunedin City Solid Waste Division Manager William Pickrum. “So when things happen, like the one Bob had to deal with, it becomes second nature.”

What is not supposed to happen is residents carelessly throwing away flammable items that may burn or even explode. Things like batteries, liquid paint, pool chemicals, or propane tanks. It’s dangerous, and it’s actually illegal to put these dangerous chemicals in your curbside container.

“It’s easy to throw the wrong thing in your trash can and forget about it,” Pickrum said. “And at the end of the day, we want to make sure that we can provide residents with the right information, so that they are aware of it.”

Officials hope these two recent incidents will serve as a serious reminder.

Pinellas County has a household electronic and chemical collection center that residents can visit to get rid of these hazardous materials free of charge. There are also mobile and monthly collection events that people can take advantage of.

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