How firefighters survived the school explosion

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Updated: 9/07/2012 10:16 pm Published: 9/07/2012 6:49 pm

Federal investigators continue to work to pinpoint the cause of fire that destroyed Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences on Wednesday morning.

Eight firefighters were injured. Three are still in the hospital but are expected to be okay.

One of the firefighters injured and released was at the scene today for the first time and describes the damage as surreal.

When Captain Alec Ridener arrived on the scene Wednesday morning he thought it was a typical building fire.

"I said ‘we got this, we are fixing to put this out.’ But the fire had some other plans,” said Ridener. "We felt the first explosion and the floor moved."

The twelve-year firefighter said when they opened the door it felt like a wind of fire.

"We are actually inside the building. We were in the room when it was on fire, when it exploded,” said Ridener.

He felt pressure and then the ceiling collapsed.

“Within five seconds of that we were surrounded by lots of fire, debris falling on us. Lots of heat," said Ridener.

He said that’s when his May Day training kicked in and he reached on the ground.

"One of the miracles that I think happened here was that we had debris covering us, they were ceiling tiles. I was able to get up out of that as were the other guys. Immediately I put my hand on the hose line,” said Ridener.

In that moment, with four firefighters behind him, they followed the hoseline and crawled out to safety.

"Once I had my hand on the hose line I thought we could do this," said Ridener.

He didn’t realize what happened until his commander told him he thought he lost his crew.

"It's hard to talk about," said Ridener.

Tulsa Fire Chief Ray Driskell said when he got the call he rushed to the hospital. In his 27 years on the Department he knew this was serious.

"Whether you are the fire chief or whether you are the captain out there it's scary. It's very scary because you don't know what the outcome is," said Driskell.

Three of the firefighters who were behind Ridener are still in the hospital but expected to survive.

Ridener’s burns were visible on his cheek and ears. He said his knees were burned from crawling and above his bunker gear his side was also burned.

“I am counting my blessings for sure," said Ridener,

While the fire had its own plan, Ridener said so did God. He credits his training, equipment, crew and God for surviving the storm.

"Our job is dangerous and we know that but you kind of know what to expect but things like this you don't expect. I'm just thankful we were able to make it out," said Ridener.

The three firefighters still in the hospital suffered burns to their back, neck, arms, face, ears, hands and knees.

Tulsa Fire Department Spokesperson, Captain Stan May, said their burns have been downgraded from third to second degree burns.

They will stay in the hospital over the weekend.

Driskell said in fires like this firefighters do not survive. He said ATF's National Response Team is assisting because of the magnitude of the fire and eight firefighters were injured.

They do not believe this was arson. Investigators are expected to be on the scene over the weekend to help determine the cause of the fire.

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