Dump Truck Explodes After Slamming Into Pa. Station

At least one person was killed Thursday afternoon when a dump truck crashed into the Leithsville Volunteer Fire Company in Lower Saucon Township and burst into flames, destroying the building and three firetrucks inside, authorities said.

The dump truck driver escaped the 12:55 p.m. accident with serious burns, but the Northampton County coroner's office said Thursday night that a body had been found in a vehicle inside the gutted firehouse.

Coroner's office officials and Lower Saucon police were on the scene investigating at 9 p.m. Officials did not want to speculate on whether more than one person may have died, or whether the dump truck may have hit a car before it rammed into the building.

The truck's crash and fire brought firefighters from throughout the Lehigh Valley to the Leithsville fire station, a mile south of Hellertown.

Terrence Getz was doing concrete work in his brother's backyard on Leithsville Road when he heard the crash.

Crashes aren't uncommon at the intersection of Flint Hill Road, a steep road that ends suddenly at Leithsville Road, he said.

But when Getz, his brother and a friend went to investigate, they saw more than just a crash: The local firehouse was in flames.

A dump truck hauling asphalt barreled down Flint Hill Road, across Leithsville Road and into the Leithsville fire station, authorities said.

The truck driver was burned and fled from the wreckage just as it was about to explode, witnesses said.

Emergency workers discovered a body hours later.

Many people in the area said they heard explosions coming from the fire station after the crash. Getz said things started to explode just as he, his 40-year-old brother Paul and friend Robert Hillegass, 20, of Bethlehem, got the driver across the road from the fire station.

"We wanted to get [the truck driver] as far away from there as possible," said Getz, 39, of Nazareth. "You could hear things blowing up in there."

Emergency crews responded in a few minutes, he said. The driver was taken to St. Luke's University Hospital-Fountain Hill, authorities said. Firefighters initially reported flames from three of the four bays of the fire station at 1995 Leithsville Road, but they quickly spread to the entire building.

A fire engine, a tanker truck and a fire brush truck were in the building. Se-Wy-Co Fire Chief Thomas Barndt said they were destroyed. "We lost everything" in the Leithsville station, he said.

Leithsville fire company has been part of Se-Wy-Co Fire Company since last year. With the loss of Leithsville, Lower Saucon's three other fire companies will fill in, Barndt said.

For hours, dozens of fire companies from Northampton, Lehigh and Bucks counties helped battle the three-alarm blaze. Fire company tankers from as far as Nazareth and Trexlertown stretched a quarter-mile down the road, waiting to help with thousands of gallons of water.

By 4 p.m., when a severe thunderstorm rolled into the area, the fire station and all the vehicles and equipment inside were gone.

Susan Dieterly and her daughter, Sheila Meixsell, watched fire crews battles the flames, and also helped by providing them with cold water. The two knew the fire station well because Mark Dieterly, Susan's husband, was the chief there for about three decades, she said.

Dieterly said her husband was talking with Leithsville Deputy Fire Chief Lynn Keck at the scene, most likely about firefighting tactics.

Terrence Getz said it was miraculous how the dump truck driver made it out of the flames. He said after he, his brother and friend ran to the fire station, they tried to get the driver out of the dump truck, but the blaze was too intense.

As the flames began to consume the dump truck, the driver crawled out of the passenger seat and raced through the inferno, he said. Then the group helped the driver across the street, he said.

"As soon as we got far enough, you could hear the booms," he said.

Getz said the driver appeared to have suffered burns on both his arms, with visible peeling and cuts to his face. Hillegass said he hopes the driver can recover.

Neighbors Deborah and Joel Matosek said they also heard the crash and the explosions from their home. When they smelled the smoke, they went outside to investigate and found the fire station engulfed in fire.

"We knew it was extremely close," Joel Matosek said. "We didn't think it would be at the fire station."

Founded in 1929, Leithsville is one of four fire companies in the township that mergedhttp://www.sewyco-fc.org/jointventure.html last year with Se-Wy-Co Fire Company, which covers the Seidersville, Wydnor and Colesville sections of the township. The other fire companies are Southeastern and Steel City.

A social banquet hall to the rear of the fire station was not touched by the fire.

Tracy Jordan, Adam Clark and Frank Warner contributed to this story.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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