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Three FFs Continue to Serve After Surviving Natural Gas Bomb

Three FFs Continue to Serve After Surviving Natural Gas Bomb

Columbus Dispatch via YellowBrix

September 08, 2010

COLUMBUS, OH – The construction worker who showed up at the Hilltop fire station was nonchalant. He thought an underground gas pipe had been punctured on W. Broad Street and asked firefighters to take a look.

Firefighters respond to gas leaks every day, and most don’t amount to much. But this one, less than a block from Fire Station 17, was about to turn into an urban bomb that would change the lives of three firefighters forever.

Patrick Malone, Barbara Capuana and Dan Whiteside had no inkling of that as they logged the run at 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 31, 2008. They hopped onto the heavy-rescue truck for the brief ride to the Cherry Box adult bookstore at 2326 W. Broad St.

Battalion Chief Johnnie Wood was already there, starting to divert traffic around the construction site.

A slight odor of gas was coming from a hole in the road. Malone, Capuana and Whiteside told the workers to clear out.

A man in front of the Cherry Box told Malone that the building smelled like gas. No one’s inside, he said.

The three firefighters began to walk in single file around the building. They had all their gear on except their gloves.

Malone, 51, was in front. He was 6feet from the front door when he heard a whooshing sound.

“I knew exactly what was happening,” he said. “I made a quarter turn away from it, and then I was thrown backward 18 feet.”

The building had exploded.

Capuana, 50, didn’t hear the whoosh. She had no warning before the building blew, pitching her into the air and across Broad Street.

She landed on her left side, dazed and covered in bricks and debris.

“I didn’t even realize what had happened,” she said.

She raised her head and looked for Malone and Whiteside.

Malone was standing face-first against Engine 10, which had pulled up minutes earlier.

“His skin was hanging off,” she said.

Whiteside lay in the middle of Broad Street, about 10 feet to her right.

“The thing that scared me the most was, he wasn’t moving.”

Even now, 22 months after the explosion that blew off his helmet, “all I can remember is a loud noise and a bright flash,” Whiteside, 46, said.

“I landed facedown on Broad Street, and I was unconscious for a while.”

When he came to, firefighters were cutting off his gear. Searing pain ran down his left side. Fire had burned off his eyebrows. The flash from the explosion had seared his retinas.

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