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Retraining, New Equipment for Firefighters After Facing Unpredictable Explosion

Retraining, New Equipment for Firefighters After Facing Unpredictable Explosion

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Washington Post via YellowBrix

March 23, 2010

PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, VA – When Prince George’s County firefighters first came on the scene of a gas-leak-turned-explosion at the Penn Mar Shopping Center in May, they had all the right policies and procedures on the books to tell them how to respond.

Problem was, not enough of them knew those policies and procedures existed, according to a federal safety report highlighted by the department this week.

That was just one fault the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health drew attention to in its review of the May 7 explosion that injured two captains, a lieutenant and five firefighters.

Among the others, according to the report:

  • Too many firefighters operated in an area likely to catch fire during the incident;
  • The utility company was not contacted immediately to cut power to the strip mall; and
  • The fire department did not have enough working gas monitors on hand.

The report was given to Prince George’s Fire Chief Eugene Jones in recent weeks, and the department itself highlighted it in a news release and on its own blog Monday.

Mark Brady, a fire department spokesman, said commanders in the department were in the process of implementing all of the institute’s recommendations. All firefighters, he said, would be re-trained in the department’s general orders and would conduct drills on how to respond to natural gas emergencies — then they would sign paperwork indicating they had done so.

Additionally, the department would use grant money to purchase new gas monitors, Brady said.

“It’s eye-opening to have someone else come in and scrutinize your department,” Brady said. “It reinforced what our department had been finding out since that incident.”

Brady said the fire chief and the firefighters union had asked the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to investigate the incident because it created serious potential for firefighter fatalities. He said the department was not shy about exposing its own faults.

“We’re going to make that public,” he said. “We’re not going to try to hide any of the facts of the case…not only for ourselves, but for fire departments across the country.”

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