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‘It was mayhem in the beginning': N.Y. firefighters recall rescues at house explosion

Syracuse firefighters said they saw so many people on the scene that it was tough to tell who was a victim

By Jon Moss

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Injured people everywhere. Children crying and screaming. Smoke rising from a collapsed house. A child trapped in a car under the rubble.

First responders in Syracuse rescued several members of two families including a child trapped in a car

That was the scene the first Syracuse firefighters saw when they arrived Tuesday afternoon after an explosion collapsed a home on the city’s North Side.

Injured people and bystanders were dangerously close to downed power lines. There was a strong odor of natural gas in the air.

“It was almost like taking 10 different alarms and putting them all into one,” said Syracuse Fire Lt. Chris Janus .

Seven of the first firefighters to respond to the house sat down Thursday with | The Post-Standard to talk about the call that sent 12 people to Upstate University Hospital , including a baby and two young children in critical condition.

The injured were members of two refugee families celebrating the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha inside the home at 205 Carbon St. Fire officials believe natural gas may have played a part in the explosion, but they are still investigating.

When firefighters started pulling up at about 4 p.m. , Janus and Firefighter Zach Beebe from Mini 2 saw so many people near the two-story home that it was tough to tell who actually was a victim needing help.

The duo rushed toward the house after a witness told them it collapsed onto a car with a child inside. They found a boy pinned between the car doors and the car itself.

Much of the house’s second floor and roof were resting on the car, Janus said. He and Beebe needed to be careful to not shift the debris too much and further destabilize what remained of the home. Other firefighters helped set up struts to brace the structure.

After removing some debris, the boy was able to wriggle himself free and jump over a seat to get out of the car, Janus said.

More and more crews from across the city kept pulling up to Carbon Street .

Engine 2 pulled up with firefighters Wilford Stephens Jr . and Keyon Brown inside. Stephens was working to connect the engine to a hydrant when he noticed a woman and a baby with a burned forehead. He ran to get a supervisor from local ambulance company AMR, who twisted his ankle and needed to be helped up.

“It was mayhem in the beginning,” Stephens said. “We’re trained to do this, but this is kind of a unique situation.”

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Truck 2 rolled in with Lt. Jeff Wisely and firefighters Jake Burns , Chris Kasperek and Gregory Henry . Burns said he grabbed a medical bag and started to take care of the victims he could see.

“It was tough because there’s kids crying,” he said, “and I don’t know if they’re hurt or they’re scared.”

Burns said he later found out that 13 people had been in the home.

“The way the house looks, it’s hard to believe nobody was killed in that,” he said.

Crews soon worked to shore up the remaining structure before firefighters from Rescue Company went inside to search for any people who were trapped. The unit is specially trained to get people out of dangerous situations. They spent 45 minutes searching and found no one.

Search dogs were driven in from Albany by the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control to comb through the rubble. A cadaver dog was brought in by the New York State Police .

It was a brutal 93 degrees as firefighters worked. They rotated in and out. They were handed bottles of water and Gatorade, as well as electrolyte freezer pops and cool towels. A Centro bus served as a cooling center for the firefighters.

The crews from Mini 2, Engine 2 and Truck 2 returned around 11:30 p.m. to their fire station at Lodi and Danforth streets, seven hours after they rolled out. And it was time for dinner.

Calls to some local pizza shops were unsuccessful — it was late enough that they were all closed. So they went to work in the kitchen and cooked some chicken cordon bleu.

Around 1 a.m. Wednesday another call crackled over the radio. A house was on fire on the Near West Side and people there needed help.

Staff writer Jon Moss covers breaking news, crime and public safety. He can be reached at or @mossjon7.

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