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Rapid Response: 2 explosions rock fire service in 2 days

A house explosion and a semi-truck blast resulted in the death of one firefighter and at least 18 injured between the two scenes

Virginia Home Explosion

First responders carry an injured person away after an explosion at a home, late Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Sterling, Va. (Nicki Jhabvala/The Washington Post via AP)

Nicki Jhabvala/AP

One firefighter has died, and 18 others have been injured in, what appear to be, separate and non-nefarious explosions in the span of just two days.

What happened

On the evening of Feb. 16, 2024, Loudoun County (Virginia) Fire Rescue reported that they responded to a gas leak in a single-family residential home. Shortly after firefighters began their investigation, a catastrophic explosion destroyed the home, trapping multiple firefighters inside.

One firefighter died and nine others were injured, some severely. Two civilians were also injured during the blast. The fallen firefighter has been identified as Firefighter Trevor Brown of the Sterling Volunteer Fire Company. He has reportedly been affiliated with the Loudoun County Combined Fire and Rescue System since 2016.

Reports are now saying an underground leaking propane tank was the cause of the blast.

Listen to the radio traffic from the scene:

Additionally, just one day prior in Los Angeles, LAFD firefighters initiated an operation at the scene of a semi-truck (with no trailer) that was on fire. The semi was a CNG-powered vehicle that contained two 100-gallon tanks, pressurized to at least 3,000 psi, exposed to the flames. As firefighters were applying water to cool the tanks, at least one of the tanks failed, resulting in a violent explosion at this scene. Nine firefighters were injured on this scene as well, two in critical condition in the immediate aftermath.

Los Angeles Truck Explosion

The tractor portion of a big rig stands on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in the Wilmington section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Eric Thayer)

Eric Thayer/AP

The disparities of these locations, one an urban core and one a semi-rural suburb of Washington, D.C., reminds us that catastrophic incidents can happen anywhere, and will affect firefighters the same.

Similar events

The Virginia incident is the latest in a series of catastrophic home explosions, especially in the eastern third of the United States. A home security camera caught this home explosion in Pennsylvania before firefighters arrived for a reported gas leak. Additionally, video caught a northern Virginia home explosion where police were working at the time to serve a search warrant.

The two newest incidents will undoubtedly result in a host of lessons learned and recommendations for the fire service. It will be incumbent upon us all to not allow these reports to sit on a shelf. “Lessons learned” must not manifest merely as “problems identified” – problems that are never acted upon.

What’s next

While the investigations into these two latest incidents get underway, we can take steps now to reflect on our own operations and safety. Reinforce and refresh your operations and training protocols for both natural gas and compressed gas incidents. Make sure you’re addressing the core issues to evacuate citizens, position apparatus appropriately, taking all protective measures necessary, and contacting any appropriate gas supplier.

While you work to ensure that your protocols are solid, the time-tested mantra we use with radiation (that I have also been using for roadway safety training) provides some quick guidance in the interim: Focus on time, distance and shielding. Limit your time on target, distance yourself from the target, and shield yourself with big stuff.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the 19 firefighters and their families directly impacted by these incidents, especially the family of Firefighter Trevor Brown.

Chief Marc S. Bashoor joined the Lexipol team in 2018, serving as the FireRescue1 and Fire Chief executive editor and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board. With 40 years in emergency services, Chief Bashoor previously served as public safety director in Highlands County, Florida; as chief of the Prince George’s County (Maryland) Fire/EMS Department; and as emergency manager in Mineral County, West Virginia. Chief Bashoor assisted the NFPA with fire service missions in Brazil and China, and has presented at many industry conferences and trade shows. He has contributed to several industry publications. He is a National Pro-board certified Fire Officer IV, Fire Instructor III and Fire Instructor. Connect with Chief Bashoor at on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Do you have a leadership tip or incident you’d like to discuss? Send the chief an email.