The adage that the fire service has more recently adopted states; “There are no “routine”calls”; referring to the safety consciousness that all responding companies should endeavor to consider when responding to an incident, that all too often appears; upon our arrival to be routine in every sense of the word. Whether it's an alarm system activation, a report of food on the stove, a report of a smoke detector alarming or a report of a gas odor or leak, we have a tendency to treat a lot of things as equal and very routine based upon the periodicity and frequency of the alarm type and the typical, inconsequential nature of the incident outcome.
This was far from it on Thursday May 7th, when Prince George’s County, Maryland, Firefighter/Medics were dispatched on a call that no one is soon to forget. Firefighters were alerted to respond to the Penn-Mar Shopping Center, a large 1-story strip mall, in the 3400 Block of Donnell Drive in Forestville and arrived at 12:59 PM.
First arriving crews initiated an investigation into a strong odor of natural gas inside the businesses. Firefighters evacuated 5 of the 6 stores that were in the area of the odor, a sixth store was vacant. Forty-five people were evacuated from the 5 stores and firefighters then started ventilation efforts and called for assistance of the Washington Gas Company.
Firefighters discovered natural gas bubbling up from the ground on the exterior rear of the vacant store and minutes later reported that there was a fire on the interior. Within a minute, at about 1:20 PM, a massive explosion occurred. A MAYDAY call was sounded and additional resources including paramedics and a second alarm assignment. Go HERE, HERE and HERE for additional photos and incident details. More follow up HERE at STATter911, Map HERE and Audio HERE
The video clearly depicts the unassuming conditions prior to the explosion, which is quickly followed by the explosion and debris flying and subsequent fire ball. Large plate glass windows blew shattered glass and other debris 60-70 feet into the front parking lot, the roof assembly appeared to have been lifted up and then fell back into place and the rear brick and block wall was completely blown out. Firefighters were in the direct line of the explosion and suffered burns and injuries from flying debris.
Firefighters were wearing their personal protective gear which is believed to have minimized injuries. A total of eight firefighters sustained a variety of injuries ranging from lacerations to second degree burns. Four Firefighters were transported to the Washington Hospital Center Burn Unit where two were treated and released and two were admitted for additional treatment.
The lessons here are clear. Use your personal protective equipment effectively; don’t assume the routine nature of a given alarm will always result in a routine outcome. A good safety drill sheet for gas leak OPS from FFClosecalls.com HERE
Use the STAR method- Stop, Think, Act and Review. Assume, "what’s the worst that can happen?", and consider the options available to you as an incident command, company officer or as part of an operating team in your dynamic risk assessment and incident action planning. Stay safe out there in the streets today….
Follow-Up Breaking News: Six firefighters and one police officer were injured in an explosion in Providence RI on Saturday May 9th, when a blast happened around 12:30 a.m. on Pavillion Avenue in the city. companies were responding to a car that crashed into the front of an apartment complex. The Providence Fire Department said crews smelled a gas leak when they arrived at the scene of the crash. Just moments after firefighters shut off the gas line, something caused the explosion. One firefighter was thrown into the street and others were hurt when debris fell on top of them.