Lessons from the Fireground; December 27,1983 Buffalo, New York Five Firefighter Line-of-Duty Deaths
As Buffalo (NY) firefighters arrived at the scene of a reported propane leak in a four-story radiator warehouse (Type III Ordinary and Type IV Heavy Timber construction), a massive explosion occurred, killing five firefighters and injuring nine others, three of them critically. The force of the blast blew BFD Ladder 5′s tiller aerial 35 feet across the street into the front yard of a dwelling. BFD Engine 1′s pumper was also blown across the street with the captain and driver pinned in the cab with burning debris all around them. Engine 32′s engine was blown up against a warehouse across a side street and covered with rubble.
Two civilians were also killed and another 60 to 70 were injured. While operating at the rescue effort, another 19 firefighters were injured. The blast and ensuing fire ignited 14 residences and damaged as many as 130 buildings over a four block area. The explosion occurred when an employee was moving an illegal 500-lb. propane tank with a forklift truck and dropped it, breaking off a valve. The gas leaked out, found an ignition source, and the explosion occurred.
At 20:23 hours, a full assignment was dispatched to North Division & Grosvenor streets. The three engines, two trucks, rescue and 3rd Battalion were responding to a report of a large propane tank leaking in a building. Engine 32 arrived and reported nothing showing, but they were talking to some workmen from the four-story, heavy-timber warehouse (approx. 50′ x 100′). Truck 5, Engine 1 and BC Supple arrived right behind E-32. Thirty-seven seconds after the chief announced his arrival, there was a tremendous explosion.
It completely leveled the four-story building. It demolished many buildings on four different blocks. It seriously damaged buildings that were over a half a mile away. The ensuing fireball started buildings burning on a number of streets. A large gothic church on the next block had a huge section ripped out of it as if a great hand carved out the middle. A ten-story housing projects a couple blocks away had every window broken and some had even more damage. Engine 32 and Truck 5′s firehouse, which was a half mile away or so, had all its windows shattered.
Killed in the line of duty were all assigned to Buffalo FD Ladder Company 5;
- Firefighter Michael Austin,
- Firefighter Michael Catanzaro,
- Firefighter Matthew Colpoys,
- Firefighter James Lickfield and
- Firefighter Anthony Waszkielewicz.
A memorial to the five members of Buffalo Fire Department Ladder Co. 5 and the two civilians who were killed sits at fire call box 191 at the intersection of N. Division and Grosvenor streets. Each year on Dec. 27, at 20;20 HRS, the fire department rings out the alarm 1-9-1 to honor the five firefighters of Ladder 5.
- Remember to think about occupancy risk and not occupancy type and the factors related to the occupancy usage and the nature of the call. Nothing is ever routine.
- WKBW.com Cached video clip, HERE
- Buffalo, NY Propane Gas Explosion, Dec 1983, HERE
- Propane blast death affects son of fireman, HERE and HERE
- PROPANE EXPLOSION 25th ANNIVERSARY IN BUFFALO,NEW YORK, HERE
- New York Times, HERE and HERE
- Rememberance, HERE and History Repeating Events, HERE
- Insights from Mike Lombardo, HERE
A post from Deputy Fire Coordinator Tiger Schmittendorf, Erie County, New York in 2010