The Cover Story

Volunteers killed and apparatus destroyed by blast near Marshalls Creek

EXPLOSION of a semi-trailer van containing 13 tons of nitro earbo nitrate (ammonium nitrate blasting agent), 2 tons of 60-percent gelatin dynamite and 99 blasting caps near Bushkill, Pa., during the early morning hours of June 20 resulted in death of six persons, injured 13 others and destroyed three pumpers of the Marshalls Creek Volunteer Fire Department. Preliminary property damage has been estimated at over $600,000.

The tragic occurrence unfolded at approximately 4:02 a.m. when Assistant Chief Richard McDonough received an alarm on the fire-reporting phone system employed by the Marshalls Creek department. The caller identified himself as a passing truck driver and reported a truck trailer on fire near Bushkill about 3 miles north of Marshalls Creek on Route 209. Due to the uncertainty of the location the truck driver, Joseph J. Horvath, Jr., stated he would return to the scene and illuminate it with the headlights of his vehicle so that the fire department would have no difficulty in responding to the site.

Based on a personal interview with Chief Ralph Miller and the testimony of Assistant Chief Richard McDonough before an Interstate Commerce Commission hearing

Chief McDonough then sounded the public alarm and proceeded to the nearby fire station where with four other volunteers, manning three pumpers, he responded to the fire driving Engine 2. Engine 5 and Engine 1 preceded him. The night was clear with a moon, although there was some ground fog. He estimated it required 4 minutes to reach the scene. All pumpers pulled up in line approximately 200 feet to the rear of the burning trailer.

Upon arrival he noted the vehicle on fire parked about 15 feet off the road in a clear spot. This was a portion of a parking area for the Reptile Farm, a tourist attraction. The tires at the right rear were burning and Chief McDonough decided to employ foam rather than plain water due to the difficulty of extinguishing a tire fire. He also noted the fire had extended to the base of the van body at the right rear and was burning brightly. He likened it to a tungsten light.

He stated there were no warning signs of any kind visible. He put his pump in gear and went to the rear to obtain a foam playpipe and assist Fireman Leonard Mosier, who was pulling off 1 1/2-inch hose. He estimated this required about 30 seconds. As he passed between Engine 2 and Engine 1 he heard a loud spat as the truck blew up and could feel himself being propelled through the air. It was very difficult for him to breathe.

Chief McDonough didn’t remember hitting the ground, but found himself lying on his back partially pinned by a ladder from one of the pumpers. He said debris of the explosion was falling like rain. Then other members of his department who had followed in cars were all around and he was removed to Monroe County General Hospital, Stroudsburg, by ambulance.

Crater and blast area at explosion scene. Freed poisonous snakes from destroyed reptile farm (left rear) caused concern


Cover and all photos by Amzi L.Miller

Looking across crater toward wrecked apparatus. Engine 2, last to arrive, pulled between Engine 5 (right) and Engine 1 (left rear)Front of Engine 5 and shattered tree stump show effect of blast. Tanker-pumper was delivered in 1961

When the explosion occurred three Marshalls Creek fire fighters were killed: F. Earl Miller, 50, former assistant chief and brother of Chief Miller; Edward Hines, 42, engineer; and Leonard Mosier, 38, former assistant chief and past president of the company. In addition, the truck driver who reported the fire, a young man residing nearby and a passing woman motorist were killed. Thirteen others were injured including: Fireman Robert Heid, still hospitalized at this writing, and Assistant Chief McDonough who required more than 70 stitches for cuts on his left arm, abdomen, right thigh and right ankle. He also had small cuts on the face, a tooth knocked out and suffered torn cartilege and muscle as well as a ruptured right eardrum.

Chief Miller was responding from his home, about 3 miles south of the fire station, when he heard the explosion. Without waiting for further word he radioed for help from Shawnee and Bushkil] Fire Departments. Upon arrival he directed his men in caring for the injured and these departments extinguished remaining fire in the wrecked vehicle of the truck driver, who had called in the alarm, and debris of the reptile farm.

The blast wrecked the three pumpers, demolished six houses in the immediate area, splintered and stripped trees for approximately 300 yards around, broke windows in buildings of this Pocono Mountain resort area for miles in all directions and left a crater in the ground approximately 60 by 40 by 12 feet. The trailer van containing the explosives disintegrated. The approximate time of the explosion was set at 4:08 a.m. when lights went out in the area due to power line damage.

The trailer was owned by the American Cyanamid Co. and operated out of its Port Carbon plant near Pottsville, Pa. It carried 520 fifty-pound bags of ammonium nitrate blasting agent, 80 fifty-pound cases of 60-percent gelatin dynamite and 99 blasting caps of various types. It was enroll te to Fosterdale, N. Y., for use at a New York Highway Route 17B construction site. The van was stated to have been placarded on each side and the rear with explosive signs before leaving the plant.

Paul K. Kenworthy, an Interstate Commerce Commission safety inspector, testified at an ICC hearing held in Stroudsburg, Pa., June 23-24, that the driver of the explosives truck told him he had parked the trailer after the tires on the right rear had gone flat. He then returned south on Route 209 in the tractor to an all-night gas station where he telephoned his superiors to report his delay. While at the station the explosion occurred. Two explosive warning signs were found in the tractor cab by Mr. Kenworthy.

Chief Miller stated that he had received many offers of apparatus on loan to help the department until new apparatus could be obtained. These were appreciated but unnecessary. Stroud Township and Bushkill Creek Fire Departments had placed apparatus in the Marshalls Creek station as soon as the disaster was known and before Marshalls Creek fire fighters had returned to quarters.

Blast damage to Engine 2. Assistant Chief McDonough was to rear of vehicle at time of explosion.Wreckage of Engine 1, farthest from blast, was complete as other pumpers at scene.

Originally ran in Volume 117, Issue 9.

No posts to display