Gasoline Shortage Flares Into Station Fire-Bombing

Gasoline Shortage Flares Into Station Fire-Bombing

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Elizabethtown, Pa., Fire Department photo

An explosion and fire at a gasoline service station left two men seriously injured and confirmed the fears of local officials about violence during t he gasoline shortage.

Shortly after 10 p.m. last June 20 in Klizabethtown, Pa., an explosion ripped through an Arco service station on South Market Street after the operator had reported receiving phone threats to fire-bomb the station if he did not sell gas. The station operator and his assistant received second and third-degree burns from the waist up in the blast. The men said that the explosion occurred as they rounded the building checking for persons inside the bays.

The Elizabethtown Volunteer Fire Department responded to an alarm at 10:11 p.m. with Engines 741 and 742, Ladder 74, Rescue Squad 74 and an ambulance.

Station fully involved

Assistant Chief Donald Dimeler, the first-arriving officer, reported at 10:13 that the building was fully involved. The two front bay doors were blown out, and there was extensive fire in the rear of the 25 X 30-foot masonry wall and wood roof structure.

Several minutes later, Chief Gregory Spickler arrived and established a command post across the street. Spickler ordered Engine 741 to attack the fire with preconnected 1 1/2 and 2-inch lines and Ladder 74 to prepare to ventilate the building. Second-due Engine 742 was to lay dual 3-inch supply lines from a hydrant about a block away.

As the last instructions were being given, the rear of the roof collapsed and the chief saw dark orange rolling fire. Fearing involvement of petroleum products in the station, he immediately changed orders and had the ladder company set up a ladder pipe to protect the exposures. When the roof collapsed, dark smoke began banking down in front of the building, obscuring the vision of the attack crews. Just 15 feet to the rear of the station was a large wood frame two-story dwelling, and this became a prime concern.

The ladder pipe operated for only a few minutes and then hand lines completed darkening down the fire. The fire was declared under control in 20 minutes and was contained to the service station with little or no damage to the exposures. A tow truck and a pickup truck in the service bays were destroyed.

Caused by arson

After investigating, Fire Marshal Dennis Gerhart of the Pennsylvania State Police declared that the fire was the result of arson. It was determined that the fire originated in the rear parts storage area and spread with the aid of a low flash point accelerant. The explosion, he theorized, probably occurred when accelerant vapors ignited.

Fifty fire fighters from the volunteer department were on the scene. During the fire, the Rheems Volunteer Fire Department sent a covering engine company to the Elizabethtown fire station.

Spickler credited the success in containing the fire to his knowing the available water supply as a result of an extensive hydrant flow testing program the department instituted several years ago. In that program, every hydrant in the borough was tested, and each steamer cap was color-coded for available flow.

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