Connecticut Firefighter Recounts His Survival of an Exploding Propane Tank

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173_8399_02062012.jpgTwo volunteer firefighters in Portland, Connecticut suffered serious injuries last year while responding to a fire at a duplex home. A backhoe operator clearing snow from the home’s driveway on Saturday, January 29, 2011, accidentally ruptured the underground propane tank located behind the house. Propane vented out, and the cold air turned it to a quickly-spreading vapor. The operator alerted residents and left the area. A neighbor called 911, and police and firefighters rushed in to evacuate remaining residents.

Lieutenant Todd Ghent and firefighter Tim Goff arrived at the scene with a portable gas meter. Intending to measure the level of gas in the backyard, they headed toward the tank. The meter reportedly showed a sudden spike in the gas level. Ghent ordered Goff away from the area. An open garage door had allowed gas to pool, since propane is heavier than the surrounding air. A still-unexplained spark ignited the gas before they could get away. A fireball engulfed the two men. As the Middletown Press noted at the time, firefighters then had to deal with two injured colleagues and a house fire. Fire units from surrounding towns responded to help with the fire.

Ghent was taken to Hartford Hospital with second- and third-degree burns to his head, face, and neck, and he was transferred to a burn unit for intensive treatment. He spent three days in the burn unit and was then confined to his house for three weeks. Goff was treated at Middlesex Hospital for burns on his hands and reportedly released the following day. Firefighters extinguished the fire, but the house was effectively destroyed.

A year later, the Hartford Courant interviewed Ghent about his ordeal. He credits instinct for his split-second decision to hold his breath when the propane exploded. The air surrounding the explosion would have been heated to almost 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Had he inhaled, the air would have seared his lungs and killed him. Instead, he dropped to the ground and somehow managed to find his way to a snow bank to put out the fire on his head.