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Fallen Firefighters Honored on 50th Anniversary of Fatal Blast

Fallen Firefighters Honored on 50th Anniversary of Fatal Blast

Firefighters Tom Hansen (left), president of the Auburn Permanent Firefighters Benevolence Association, and Brian Donovan, president of Firefighters Union Local 1446, are seen Wednesday next to a memorial showing the names of fallen firefighters at the Au

The Post-Standard via YellowBrix

March 27, 2010

Auburn, NY — Irene Murphy was dining with her girlfriends at Lasca’s restaurant when their waiter hurried to their table. He asked them if they had heard about an explosion that rocked downtown Auburn moments earlier.

Murphy sensed something may have gone bad for her husband “Spuds,” an Auburn firefighter who was working that night with his Engine No. 4 company. She rushed to a telephone and called her father, who was living with the couple and their three children at the time.

“Irene, come home,” he said.

A short time later, at Auburn Memorial Hospital, Murphy’s premonition proved true. Her 51-year-old husband was one of three firefighters killed in an explosion at a Chevron gas station at the corner of Lincoln and South streets. Two station employees also died in the explosion with a force so powerful it knocked down nearby pedestrians, shattered glass in buildings two blocks away and showered sidewalks with cinder blocks and other debris from the building.

Tuesday marks the 50th anniversary of the fire department’s worst fatal fire in history. Although it happened 50 years ago on March 30, 1960, Murphy — now 94 — said she remembers the night clearly, as if it were a reoccurring bad dream.

“I guess I’ll never forget it,” the soft-spoken Murphy said last week. “I knew something had happened … but I never thought of (my husband) being killed.”

On Tuesday, Auburn firefighters will hold a 7:30 p.m. memorial service at Willard Chapel to honor Lt. Alfred “Spuds” Murphy and the department’s eight other firefighters who have died in the line of duty. The public can attend.

“It’s a tradition for us to honor the guys who went before us. They made the ultimate sacrifice,” said firefighter Brian Donovan, the union president. Besides Murphy, firefighters Anthony Contrera and John Searing died in the 7:52 p.m. explosion, which was caused by a leaking gas tank that had filled the floor of an adjoining building with gasoline, according to news reports.

Fumes from the gas exploded like a fireball when the station’s electric generator kicked on unexpectedly and detonated the volatile vapors, reports said. The three firefighters, who were in or near the building, thought the electricity was turned off.

The department’s nine fatalities serve as a grim reminder of the inherent dangers of fighting fires, Donovan said.

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