9 LAFD firefighters injured, 2 critically, in Wilmington explosion involving natural gas cylinder

Thursday, February 15, 2024
WILMINGTON, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A massive explosion involving a pressurized cylinder on a semitruck in Wilmington on Thursday morning left nine Los Angeles firefighters injured, including two who were critically hurt, officials said.

The incident occurred shortly before 7 a.m. in the area of Alameda Street and Henry Ford Avenue, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Twelve firefighters "responded to a truck with pressurized cylinders on fire," the agency said in a statement. The blast happened six minutes after they arrived.

"While Angelenos were barely waking up and making their first cup of coffee, our LAFD firefighters were courageously responding to this blaze," said L.A. Mayor Karen Bass during a press conference Thursday.

Several firefighters were immediately rushed to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and others were initially evaluated at the scene before they too were hospitalized. Authorities said the firefighters were responding from Station 38, which is a part of LAFD's South Bureau.

"It was a great and well-trained task force coming out of 38 that responded first, and unfortunately, the members of 38 in that response were injured," said Councilmember Tim McOsker.

L.A. Fire Chief Kristin Crowley said she's already met with the firefighters who are hospitalized along with their families. The two in critical condition are married with children.

What we know about the firefighters injured in Wilmington explosion

Medical crews at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center are working fast to intubate the victim with the greatest injuries, who was ultimately transferred to the LA General Regional Burn Center for more specialized care.

"First and foremost, we're always concerned about stabilizing someone's airway, especially if we're worried about an inhalation injury," said Dr. Molly Deane.

Crowley said the second critical patient is "alert and talking" and will most likely stay in the hospital for observation.

The uninjured driver of the truck, identified only as a woman, was cooperating with investigators, Capt. Erik Scott told reporters at a news conference held outside the hospital.

"She noticed some abnormalities with the tank, she exited and called 911," he said.

Video from AIR7 HD showed the charred wreckage of the burned semitruck, which had no trailer attached. The vehicle was fueled by two 100-gallon tanks containing compressed natural gas, an LAFD spokesperson said, adding that only one of them exploded. Afterward, the other tank was being "gassed off" as a precaution.

Scott said each tank had more than 3,000 pounds of pressure.

Several fire engines, apparently undamaged, were seen nearby. A 500-foot perimeter was established around the blast site.

9 LAFD firefighters injured, 2 critically, in explosion involving natural gas cylinder on semitruck

A doorbell camera in the area captured video footage of the fiery explosion, which ignited a fireball that reached as high as suspended power lines and resulted in an electrical transformer explosion.

People who live in the area reported hearing the blast in the early hours, which woke them up from their sleep.

"It was an explosion with a big shake, so most definitely like an earthquake, but like a bomb," said Wilmington resident Maria Soto. "It was really bad."

The audio of the call for help made during the explosion was released, which details the harrowing scene.

"We've got a firefighter down!"

"Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!"

"We've had an explosion of a CNG truck. We've got multiple firefighters down."

In the aftermath, more than 150 firefighters responded to the location, including a hazardous materials team.

Specialists spent hours conducting air quality tests after safely releasing the gas from the second tank. It was safely expelled and the air quality was reported to be normal.

The Fire Department initially said the blast involved a tank on a fire engine, and that three firefighters were in critical condition.

Meanwhile, Crowley said this incident serves as a reminder of the ever-changing nature and dangers of this profession.

"In today's world, with the different types of vehicles, from CNG-powered to hydrogen-powered to electric-powered, to gasoline and diesel, just those five right there make it a very dynamic type of a situation any time there's an incident let alone a fire that's related with that different type of vehicle."

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