Volunteer firefighters crucial in Eufaula explosion

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Updated: 5/09/2013 9:29 am Published: 5/08/2013 10:35 pm

First responders play a crucial role in crisis like the explosion at a Eufaula sandblasting warehouse.

OSHA is still investigating but not releasing details on what they found inside Ford Sandblasting after officials say a propane leak caused a flash explosion on Tuesday.

When volunteer firefighters arrived at the warehouse, they saw thick black smoke seeping out of the building.

"Those are the scariest situations," said Don Berryhill. "Very, very intense."

He's been with a volunteer firefighter for Eufaula for two years but served as a volunteer firefighter for Hanna for 20 years, 18 of those as chief.

Volunteer Eufaula Fire Chief Clifford Shatswell Jr. also has tenure and has been with Eufaula for 15 years and before that was with the Vivian Volunteer Fire Department. When he got the call about the explosion at Ford Sandblasting he didn't know what his men were up against.

"There wasn't an employee there to tell me what we had. We thought paint thinners, combustible stuff like that but had no idea the propane tanks were in there," said Shatswell Jr.

Firefighters say they soon found there were three propane tanks but once they got inside they found 11.

"We didn't know if they had gas in them or not, we had no idea," said Berryhill.

Volunteer firefighters from Eufaula, Vivian, Hanna and Texanna swarmed the explosion.

Officials say two workers went back inside after a valve from a propane tank came loose from a fall off a forklift. Propane gas started leaking. The three workers inside evacuated but when two went back inside there was a flash explosion. The men are in a Tulsa's Hillcrest Medical Center Burn Unit suffering from severe burns.

"We were really fortunate that more of them didn't start exploding. The good Lord was looking over us in that situation he really did," said Shatswell.

However at all of the volunteer departments, resources and training to fight a propane fire are not available.

In Eufaula they trained kids with an explosion drill last week.

Shatswell Jr. says Eufaula's fire department's budget relies on city sales tax and an annual budget of $50,000.

"We do the best we can with what we got," said Shatswell.

The chief works three jobs but his most proud title is priceless.

"When you sign up to do this you know that you are risking your lives. Like police officers, you know that when you walk out the door, you may not have a chance of coming home," said Shatswell.

One firefighter from Texanna was treated for smoke inhalation during the explosion but recovered and went back to work that day.

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