FORESTVILLE, Md. -- Eight firefighters and a gas company worker were injured in a natural gas explosion at a strip mall in Forestville, Maryland on Thursday afternoon. Despite being caught in the violent explosion, only two of the injured remain hospitalized. Career Captain Robert Rouse from Engine 823 (Forestville) and Volunteer Firefighter Greg Powell from Station 826 (District Heights) are in good condition at the Washington Hospital Center.
According to Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department Chief Spokesman Mark Brady, the fire department received the call for 3426 Donnell at 12:54 PM. The first firefighters arrived five-minutes later and reported a strong odor of natural gas inside some of the stores at the Penn Mar shopping center.
The firefighters spent their first minutes on the scene evacuating the businesses. Approximately 45 people were ushered out of five stores. A sixth store front in the area of the leak was vacant. Firefighters requested help from the Washington Gas Company and a crew arrived at the shopping center a short time later.
According to Brady, firefighters in the rear of the strip mall soon discovered gas bubbling up from the ground in the rear of the stores. On the recorded fireground radio traffic you hear the report a few minutes later that a fire erupted behind the building.
As the incident commander tried to determine more details about the fire an explosion occurred at about 1:20 PM. The radio traffic erupted with the urgent transmissions of "Mayday" from a number of firefighters.
The video of the explosion was captured by a camera mounted on Engine 826 at the front of the building.
There was a flash fire that immediately spread through the building and caused some of the injuries. As that immediately subsided a smaller fire continued to burn inside the strip mall. The firefighters and gas company worker were also injured by the flying debris from the explosion.
Glass and other building parts were scattered more than 70-feet into the front parking lot. The video shows the roof appearing to lift up and then falling back down into place. Brady reports the brick and block wall in the rear of the structure was blown out.
The firefighters on the scene quickly recovered from the blast and began accounting for and helping those who were injured. A second-alarm was requested after the explosion bringing in additional firefighters and equipment.
One of the firefighters who was treated and released at the Medstar Burn Unit of the Washington Hospital Center has recently made news for another reason. Firefighter Rachel Edney from Station 805 was cited for her actions on February 1 of this year when on her off-duty hours she jumped into the frigid South River in Anne Arundel County and saved a drowning 61-year-old man.
On April 16, 1980 a Prince George's County firefighter was killed in a natural gas explosion. Thomas L. Graves Sr. was crushed by debris while on the scene of a gas leak at an apartment complex on Goodluck Road.
List of injured firefighters from PGFD:
Personnel admitted to Washington Hospital Center Burn Unit
Capt. Robert Rouse, Station 823- Forestville, 2nd degree burns to face and hands.
Volunteer Firefighter Greg Powell, Station 826-District Heights, injuries from flying debris.
Treated and released from Washington Hospital Center Burn Unit
Firefighter Kelli Kivett, Station 823-Forestvile
Firefighter Rachel Edney, Station 805 -Capitol Heights
Transported to other area hospitals, treated and released
Lt. Richard Anderson, Station 826-District Heights
Capt. John Gatland, Station 805-Capitol Heights
Firefighter Curk Smart, Station 823-Forestville
Firefighter/Medic William Descutner, Station 805-Capitol Heights
Republished with permission of WUSA-TV.