Like most entrepreneurs, Stephen Perron and Fritz Casper expected a few challenges when they started a business last year.
But their business plan for Florida Firearms Academy did not include this week’s fire that caused expensive damage, temporarily closing their new venture at 13317 W. Hillsborough Ave., just east of the Pinellas County line.
When the fire broke out Monday evening, employees followed company protocol, evacuating customers, securing weapons and the building, and calling 9-1-1.
“Everybody did what they were supposed to do,” Perron said. All firearms, including those being repaired for customers, were locked in the store’s fireproof vault. Customers on the range, where the fire began, also followed protocol, leaving their guns on a bench, said Casper, the store’s general manager. He was working when a customer reported smoke on the gun range, which Casper confirmed with the store’s video monitor system.
“All this happened within a minute and half, two minutes,” the videotape shows, Perron said.
“One of my guys did a walk-through, both sides of the range,” making certain all customers had evacuated, Casper said. Two employees began opening a pair of doors leading outside to check for the source of the smoke. They stopped doing so when the first door they touched was hot, and called a 9-1-1 dispatcher, Casper said.
Hillsborough County firefighters responding to the 6:45 p.m. call entered the downrange area through that door and sprayed the flames, instantly creating heavy smoke and zero visibility, Casper said. “It looked to me like they had the fire out in a matter of minutes,” he said, but ventilation continued four hours, and there was smoke damage throughout the building.
The blaze began behind downrange baffles on the east range. The fire was accidental, a Hillsborough County fire spokeswoman said Thursday, but its cause remained unknown.
Authorities estimated damage at $400,000. Perron said repair costs hinge on the condition of the range’s ventilation, a closed system designed to filter contaminants created by lead ammunition.
Florida Firearms Academy, which opened 10 months ago, likely will be closed for two weeks, Perron said. The retail store will re-open first, followed by the six-lane east range not damaged by fire.
“We will rebuild,” Casper said. “We will be back; better than ever.”