Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 6:05 PM on Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tank explosion a reminder of firefighter risks


Good can, and often does, come from unfortunate events.

Take, for example, the garage fire that led to a catastrophic fuel tank explosion on Sunday morning.

Two good things out of that incident are gratitude for area firefighters and a renewed appreciation that it's no idle saying that our firefighters do put their lives on the line for their community every time they respond to an incident. They just never know all that's waiting for them when they reach the scene. In this case, it was a venting fuel tank inside the garage, which fortunately exploded just after firefighters left the area to check water supplies to hoses.

Even though the blast took out a steel door and shot the tank 150 feet out of the garage, flames and shrapnel missed firefighters and onlookers. People could have been severely hurt or killed, but no one was injured.

"It's the closest I've come to losing a crew," said Homer Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bob Painter.

We're extremely grateful no one got injured. The explosion destroyed the car and garage of homeowner Lynn Pattie. Kachemak Emergency Services and HVFD firefighters saved most of her house, and she'll be able to rebuild. We hope she gets back into the warmth of her home by Christmas.

Another good thing coming out of the incident is raising awareness of fuel tanks in enclosed spaces. As the state fire marshal noted, it's not a good thing to do. As far as we can tell, a small percentage of tanks in the area are inside, but next time there's a problem we might not be as lucky as we were Sunday. The potential for serious, even fatal, injuries from such an explosion is real. Chief Painter is considering asking the Homer City Council and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to pass an ordinance making it illegal to store a fuel tank in a garage, shed or basement. The fire happened in Kachemak City, which gets fire service under a contract from HVFD. The Kachemak City Council also might consider a similar ordinance.

Short of that, homeowners who have their fuel tanks stored unsafely should be aware of the danger and move them voluntarily. At the least, indoor tanks should be identified with placards on buildings, and homeowners and businesses should work with local fire departments to note tanks on their maps and records.

Except for senior staff and some full-time firefighters and medics, most of our local fire departments are staffed by volunteers. These women and men worked long hours and took many classes to be certified as firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

They keep up with training, attend meetings and take time out of their lives just to be ready to respond. Of course, when the page goes out, firefighters and EMTs answer the call, rushing to fire halls day or night. They know the inherent risk in their jobs.

Sunday, our local heroes got a reminder of that risk. By the grace of God we're writing this editorial and not one mourning our neighbors.

Thank you, firefighters and EMTs, for protecting our homes and lives, and doing so in the face of danger.