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Firefighter Recalls Explosion Chaos

Firefighter Recalls Explosion Chaos

Dave Storck

The Sacramento Bee via YellowBrix

July 10, 2010

SACRAMENTO – For five minutes, it was like the hundreds of gas-leak calls before it. Then in a flash of blue, it turned into one of the worst calls in recent Sacramento Fire Department history.

In an interview Friday with The Bee, Sacramento firefighter Dave Storck described how a routine call turned into a chaotic scene at an Oak Park home Monday.

Four firefighters, including the 33-year-old Storck, were burned in the explosion, which is still under investigation. Storck is the only one who has been released from the hospital.

A 10-year veteran, Storck wasn’t even supposed to be working that day. But he swapped shifts and found himself riding on Engine 6 from Oak Park’s Station 6 to a possible gas leak at a home just a mile away.

On such a ride, a captain will update the crew on what details are available on the call. More senior staff members might offer some helpful reminders or precautions to rookies.

But this was an engine of veterans. The four firefighters on board said little during the ride, other than the captain’s routine reading of the call, Storck said. He remembers just a brief mention of a spinning gas meter.

When they arrived, the only notable thing was the odor of gas, Storck said.

“You could smell it when you got out to the driveway,” he said. Nevertheless, he said, “I didn’t think anything of it.”

Truck 6 had arrived, followed by Engine 56. Storck helped another firefighter lay down hoseline, worked out the kinks and then pulled a screen off a window while others tried forcing their way in the front door.

He stopped fiddling with the window once firefighters got the front door open. He remembers walking past the doorway and seeing brown carpet inside. He noted the stink again.

Then, Storck remembered, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a blue flash. He dived to the ground, and heard a whooshing sound.

He likened it to the sound of lighting the gas barbecue back at the station.

The moments that followed are somewhat of a blur to Storck. He said he could see firefighter Michael Feyh off to his right, crawling on his hands and knees. He could hear the moans of Jeff Coats to his left. Scott McKinney was nowhere to be seen.

Storck said he ran around the property, looking for McKinney, shocked and repeatedly wondering, “What the (expletive) just happened?”

The firefighters gathered at the sidewalk. One man’s face was bloodied. Storck helped another pull off the sleeve of his jacket. He said he doesn’t recall what was being said over the radio, other than several calls of “mayday!”

It was about that moment that Storck became aware of his own injuries: He said he realized how hot and uncomfortable his face felt.

Storck suffered first-degree burns. He was released from UC Davis Medical Center in a few hours and now treats his burns at home with ointment.

He said his ears and nose sting the most.

Firefighters Coats, Feyh and McKinney suffered more serious burns to their faces and hands, but are in stable condition at the medical center.

Storck visits them daily.

“It’s good to see them,” he said, but he added, “it’s hard to see them in there and be home (himself).”

The cause of the explosion is still under investigation. PG&E officials say they detected no gas leak in their pipes, and fire officials say they suspect somebody intended to cause a fire or explosion.

“The gas leak and the source of ignition were deliberate acts,” said acting Chief Lloyd Ogan.

Who did it, though, and who, if anyone, was the target remains unclear, Ogan said.

Storck said he hopes to return to work – and to “the line,” not a desk – within a couple of weeks. His wife, Kami, is a little more wary.

“I rarely tell you no,” she told him, smiling, “but it’s not happening.”

Still, Kami Storck said she supports her husband’s work. Even after this week’s ordeal.

“I know what they do and the benefits outweigh the risks,” she said. “He loves his job, and that makes me happy.”