Three people were badly burned, one of them critically, in a tanker explosion inside of a commercial garage in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.
Emergency officials in East Huntingdon responded to the tanker explosion at about 4:20 p.m. Friday in the area of 1500 New Stanton Ruffsdale Road, about 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
“When we pulled on scene we had the heavy smoke and fire,” said James King, director of the East Huntingdon Emergency Management Association. “We made an initial heavy attack on the inside because we thought someone was inside, but we learned everyone was out. Then the ceiling started to collapse. … About 30 to 40 minutes into the incident, we had a second explosion inside the building.”
About 20 agencies, including HAZMAT teams, responded to the fire, and King said crews called for 12 back-up tankers of water. Firefighters took control of the fire a little after 6 p.m., but they remained on the scene until about 11 p.m.
Possible valve failure
The cause of the tanker explosion will be determined by a state police fire marshal, King said, but an initial investigation points to a possible valve failure when employees were performing maintenance on a truck carrying butane or propane.
Two men were flown to the UPMC Mercy Trauma and Burn Center. One of those men was hospitalized in critical condition, and the other was listed as serious, officials said. A woman was taken by ambulance to UPMC Mercy in “moderate condition,” King said.
All three appeared to be out of immediate danger by Saturday afternoon. “All three are in moderate condition,” King said. “They’re still at the burn center.”
CEO issues statement
The garage, which is owned by is owned by Grammer Industries Inc., is located about 2.5 miles from the Pennsylvania Turnpike and I-70 interchange in New Stanton. Grammer Industries Inc. took control of the facility in April, after it acquired the former owner, North Carolina-based Sterling Transport, a liquid natural gas and dry bulk goods trucking company.
Grammer Industries is located in Columbus, Indiana. The company hauls anhydrous ammonia, liquid petroleum gas, nitric acid, and carbon dioxide.
“Grammer’s immediate focus is on the well-being of all involved, as well as assisting the first-responders and authorities involved in performing their respective functions,” company CEO Bart Middleton wrote in a statement issued Saturday. “It is too early in the investigative process for additional comments at this time, but please keep our employees in your thoughts and prayers.”
Former Homer publisher
killed in appliance explosion
Gary Thomas, the former publisher of the Homer (Alaska) News, died after an explosion at a home outside of Homer. Ken Marsh, a public information officer with the Alaska State Troopers, confirmed that Thomas, 68, died Jan. 14 at an address off Cottonwood Hill Avenue, which is off East End Road near McNeil Canyon Elementary School.
The investigation revealed the cause was “an appliance explosion,” according to an online trooper dispatch report, that “caused fatal injuries to Thomas.” Marsh said the appliance was a water heater.
Thomas worked at the Homer News from the late 1990s until 2005. He was first hired as business manager, and he was promoted to editor and publisher in 2002.
“Gary served his community well as a volunteer firefighter, radio manager and journalist,” wrote Michael Armstrong, the newspaper’s current editor. “Always cheerful and kind, he exemplified the best of Homer. He had a big heart and brought joy and comfort to all he met. I enjoyed working with him at the Homer News and will miss him as a colleague and friend. My heart goes out to his wife, Laura, and his children.”
Search for Thomas
According to the trooper dispatch report, the Homer Police Department passed on information at 11:08 p.m. last Tuesday that Thomas had been reported overdue by his wife, Laura Patty. Officers from the Homer Police, along with friends and family, began searching for Thomas, and his phone eventually was located at the Cottonwood Hill Avenue address with the help of a phone app, troopers wrote.
“One of the friends went to the area and located Thomas’ vehicle,” troopers wrote in the dispatch.
Homer Police found Thomas’ body inside the home. Troopers were called to investigate and responded from the Anchor Point post, Marsh said.
Kachemak Emergency Services (KESA) chief Bob Cicciarella said he was called about the incident and responded, and then KESA was paged at about midnight. Upon arrival, Cicciarella said, “There was some significant damage to the home.”
Originally, KESA responded to the scene with an ambulance, but Cicciarella said a fire response also was called for because first-responders smelled propane.
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