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St. Paul's responce to the West St. Paul Expolsion
2 Special Alarms Thompson and Charleton Aves.
Jan. 11, 1974

Just before midnight on January 11, 1974 a couple of unusual radio  transmissions caught the attention of careful radio buffs. The first  were runs being given to two St. Paul ambulance companies for an address  in suburban West St. Paul. The second was a telephone alarm (a full  first alarm) to Shepard Road and Montreal Ave. for the report of an explosion  at the large oil tank farm then located there. In the meantime several  transmissions to the ambulance companies responding 'out-of-city' indicated  they were responding to some type of large fire, and to some type of explosion.  Companies arriving on Montreal Avenue found nothing unusual at the tank farm.  St. Paul Fire Dispatcher Wally Morton reported back to the companies,  "We got a call from a citizen who reported an explosion, and insisted it was  the tank farm on Montreal. We explained there had been an explosion on 'the  West Side', but he insisted". Engine 19 then replied. "Yeh, I think it  is the glow from the Pine Bend Refinery".

The Pine Bend Refinery, located in Rosemount, MN., and under certain cloud  conditions can give off a glow in the clouds that you would  sware looks like it is comming from the lume-up of some major structure fire.  However, the Pine Bend Refinery is about 20 miles distant from the tank  farm on Montreal and Shepard Road, and cloud conditions were not of the type  that is usual for the strange lume-up glow. Engine 19 was indeed seeing  a lume-up, they just didn't realize that it was comming from a much closer  source. I will admit I have 'chased a lume-up' I would sware was a major  building fire, only to find it was only the 'Pine Bend lume-up'.  The first arriving ambulance company reported a large fire in a large  apartment complex.

The West St. Paul Fire Department is not frequently monitored on a regular  basis by local buffs, primarily because it shares its dispatch frequency  with the West St. Paul Police Department. Dedicated fire buffs often  find the police radio traffic 'annoying', and just choose not to listen.  So, little initial information was available but the picture was forming.  In West St. Paul there was a large fire in progress, and apparentlty the  root cause was an explosion.

What had actually happened was a fire had occurred in a large commercial  size propane tank of thousands of gallons size. The relief valve was sounding,  and eventually a BLEVE (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion) occurred.  This explosion destroyed a West St. Paul engine company rig, and caused  the death of three West St. Paul Firefighters. Those killed were Fire Fighters  Erling Armstrong, Richard Neikirk, and Fire Captain John Heuer. Also killed was  a civilian, Mrs. Dodge Petersen the apartment caretakers’ wife.

The explosion caused two, large apartment buildings, located at Thompson and  Charleton Avenues to become fully involved. The radio traffic here is that  of St. Paul responce to the incident on 'mutual-aid'.

If there are any photos included you may click the thumbnail for a larger photo

 
 
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West St. Paul firefighters attack one of two large  apartment buildings involved as a result of the propane  tank explosion.


Photo source: David B. Freedman

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West St. Paul firefighters attack one of two large apartment  buildings involved as a result of the propane tank explosion.


Photo source: David B. Freedman

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West St. Paul firefighters attack one of two large apartment  buildings involved as a result of the propane tank explosion.


Photo source: David B. Freedman

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West St. Paul Engine 4 (2684), International/ General Safety,  1000gpm. This rig was destroyed by being hit with a large portion  of the propane tank ruptured by a BLEVE. Three fighters were killed  as a result of the expolsion.


Photo source: David B. Freedman

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West St. Paul Engine 4 (2684) again.


Photo source: David B. Freedman

Original recording from: David B. Freedman

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Copyright © 1996- The Extra Alarm Association
of The Twin Cities, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
Last Modified
Edited and maintained by D.B. Freedman
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