Vincent Reid works in downtown Nyack, so it was no surprise that the was the first firefighter on the scene of Thursday's on North Broadway.
But when he got there around 4:30 p.m., the veteran volunteer was .
"As I was driving up Broadway, my window was down and I could feel the heat from the fire," said Reid. "It was really hot."
With the smell of natural gas still in the air after the fire from the blast was extinguished, Reid recalled that what he found at the corner of North Broadway and First Avenue was a tower of flame that rose at times to more than 50 feet in the air. The flames were burning trees, utility lines — and starting to lick the front and side of the commercial and residential building on the corner, 53 N. Broadway.
Reid said he alerted Nyack Fire Chief James Petriello that the department had a major problem so that manpower from neigboring volunteer fire departments could be brought in. As other Nyack firefighters arrived, Reid explained the first thing they did was to check inside 53 N. Broadway to make sure ground floor offices were cleared and the residential units on the upper two floors were all evacuated.
With the building clear — firefighters carried out several pets that were still in the building — then volunteers focused on the fire.
Petriello said that seven hose lines, including one on an aerial ladder truck, were used to wet down 53 N. Broadway so the building would not be destroyed by the fire. He said firefighters had to keep that going for more than 90 minutes until natural gas feeding the 12-inch main under North Broadway could be shut off.
Reid said the building suffered exterior — "cosmetic" — damage and some water damage, but was not significantly damaged by the blaze. The building remained evacuated throughout the night as utility crews worked to repair the gas line damage.
Orange and Rockland Utilities spokesman Michael Donovan said the massive gas fire broke out when a safety device came loose as an O&R subcontractor was working on the gas main. O&R is working on that run under the length of Broadway in downtown Nyack.
Donovan said workers from Raines and Welch were grinding a piece of the gas main when the safety plug came loose. He said sparks from the grinding set off a gas explosion.
Donovan explained that O&R had to shut off vaulves at three different locations to stop the flow of natural gas in the low-pressure line on Broadway. That left 416 gas customers without service, however, electric service to 2,500 customers in Nyack was cut off as a precaution.
Electrical service to all but 215 customers was back by 5:15 p.m. Although the flow of gas was cut off, Donovan said residual gas in the line continued to burn for several hours. Nyack firefighters were at the scene of the blast until after 8 p.m. in case there was any more fire created by the residual gas.
No one was injured in the blast. However, two Nyack volunteer firefighters were injured — one was burned from steam created from fighting the fire, and a second complained of chest pains.
Petriello and Reid both said Thursday's heat wore down firefighters, and volunteers from different area fire departments took turns manning hose lines to prevent exhaustion. As firefighters were working, utility workers assisting with the efforts to battle the gas line problem were affected by the heat.
Officials said five workers were taken to Nyack Hospital for treatment — with one of the workers suffering a head injury when he collapsed. A teenage relative of a firefighter who was at the scene of the fire also collapsed and needed treatment.
The incident closed North Broadway from Main Street to Second Avenue, leaving homeowners, apartment-dwellers and business owners unable to access buildings in that area for hours as firefighters and Orangetown police closed off the area.
As the hours passed, some local officials expressed concern that the incident would affect the 8 p.m. Nyack High School graduation ceremonies just a few blocks west at the old Nyack High School. But .
Petriello said Thursday's incident was the first problem on the O&R gas main replacement project. Utility crews were working throughout the night to repair damage from the blast and fire.