Risks of fighting fires during storms

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MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. -- Three Boca Raton firefighters were injured Tuesday by a lightning strike after responding to a backyard fire.

That incident is serving as a chilling reminder to other first responders of the added danger they face when working during storms.

Martin County Fire Battalion Chief Matthew Fenex says the risk of being shocked while working is slim, but always possible, given the frequency of lightning in Florida.

Tuesday, Martin County fire fighters responded to at least two lightning related calls for damage to homes.

“There was lightning popping all around when we had guys working outside and inside the structure,” Fenex said.

Fire crews in Martin County were working when they learned several other fire fighters in Boca Raton had been injured as a result of a nearby lightning strike.

“When you hear that it’s one of your own brothers, it’s kind of disturbing,” he says.

Unfortunately, Fenex says preventing that from happening isn't always easy. They will still respond to any emergency when there is lightning, even if that requires them to be outside with their metal equipment and put their own lives at risk.

"Everything that we have and that we wear has some form of metal on it," Fenex said.

Their main line of defense is simply avoiding being an open target. "If it is at all possible that we can stay undercover, we try to put our guys under cover. If we can stay in a vehicle, we stay in a vehicle."

Fenex says the amount of metal in the their gear, mainly their uniforms, has decreased over the years. That will likely never be completely eliminated given the need for strong materials to withstand the heat and elements they face.