By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Retired Oneonta Fire Chief Norm Jacobson described the Colliersville train derailment as “like five nuclear bombs going off.”
Last week’s garage fire in Middlefield, which sent five firefighters to the hospital, drew comparisons to the derailment on Feb. 12, 1974, near what is now the I-88 overpass.
“I was on duty that day, and a number of departments responded,” he said. “Seven cars, each carrying 33,000 gallons of propane, overturned.”
Propane was leaking from the tankers, and one of them exploded in what Jacobson called a BLEVE – Boiling Liquid Evaporated Vapor Explosion.
“For every gallon of liquid propane, it releases 270 gallons of vapor,” he said. “It was like a minor nuclear blast. The mushroom cloud was higher than the mountains around it; people heard the blast in Davenport.”
Four other tank cars soon exploded. No one died, but more than 50 firefighters were sent to the hospital with burns.
One man had his arm amputated and Roy Althiser, a volunteer fire fighter from Worcester, had to have his leg amputated.
“Five or six of them were in the burn unit at Albany Medical Center for six months,” he said. “It was catastrophic.”