Mass. Firefighters Thrown More Than 30 Ft. by Blast
One firefighter suffered a broken neck and back, while another badly fractured his ankle.


BY DOUG FRASER

Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.


Posted: Tue, 06/01/2010 - 10:25
Updated: Tue, 06/01/2010 - 13:19
SANDWICH, Mass. -- On a busy Memorial Day filled with ambulance runs, firefighters Daniel Keane and Lee Burrill were the only ones available to immediately respond to a house fire that soon went to three alarms at the Ridge Club.

They stood at a doorway with a fire hose shortly after 12:30 p.m. pushing the flames back inside the building when suddenly an explosion rocked the 5,000-square-foot home at 15 Open Trail Road, said fire Capt. James Huska.

The impact sent Keane and Burrill flying backward so violently they broke through the deck railings and landed about 30 or 40 feet from where they started, Huska said.

Keane, a firefighter/paramedic, has a broken neck and a broken back. Doctors at Cape Cod Hospital are watching for signs of paralysis, but Keane was moving his toes last night, Huska said. Cape Cod Healthcare spokeswoman Robin Lord said Keane was in stable condition.

Burrill, also a firefighter/paramedic, has a badly fractured ankle, and was being taken from Cape Cod Hospital to a Boston hospital last night, Huska added.

Huska said within minutes of the call, the first crew found itself overmatched by the fire and the need to attend to the injured firefighters. Two firefighters had to drag the injured men away from the path of a three-story chimney that was about to collapse.

Dragging men with back and neck injuries is rarely a good idea, Huska said, but they had no choice. The chimney collapsed less than a minute after they were moved, he said.

Meanwhile the fire was moving fast through the large, contemporary home. The injured men "had to lie on the ground for 15 minutes while we waited for mutual aid," Huska said.

The Sandwich Fire Department sounded a third alarm, calling for manpower from all over the Upper Cape. In the end, about 50 firefighters were able to bring the blaze under control in about an hour, Huska said.

Last night, however, shortly before 9 p.m., the fire reignited and a Sandwich fire crew went back to the same address, the Sandwich fire dispatcher said.

Huska blamed understaffing for the injuries and the severe damage to the home, which he declared a total loss.

"We didn't have enough staff," Huska said. "We weren't able to get enough water on that fire quickly enough."

The explosion was caused by a backdraft, he explained, which occurs when gas from the fire builds up, in this case in the attic.

Oxygen and accelerants struck the gas, causing a huge explosion.

"It lifted the entire roof off the building," Huska said. "It blew debris 100 to 150 feet."

While the outcome was bad enough, it could have been much worse if the backdraft had been larger, he said.

"Both these guys have children and they'll be coming home to them," he said.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation, but firefighters ruled out arson.

Neighbors inside the Ridge Club, a gated golf community, said they noticed smoke soon after the family left in the late morning to go for a boat ride. At least one neighbor said he used a garden hose in an attempt to put out a fire at an outdoor grill in the rear of the home.

Huska said the fire started near the gas grill, but firefighters were not positive if that caused it.

Mashpee Fire Chief George Baker said the fire spread quickly through the home.

He said he's noticed that has been happening with large, newly built contemporary homes with a lot of open interior spaces.

Neighbors contacted the owners of the home, Tom and Joanne Sullivan, when the fire was discovered and the family returned as the last of the flames were being extinguished at around 2 p.m.

They were too emotional to comment at the scene yesterday afternoon.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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