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Firefighters aid rescue effort at explosion scene

Addison firefighter W Rippetoe (left) and Chief Jerry Morawski aided in the Dec. 29 rescue/recovery effort at the scene of a furniture store explosion in the City of Wayne. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
January 05, 2011 - "Catastrophic."

That's how Addison firefighter W Rippetoe described the scene of a suspected natural gas explosion that happened Dec. 29 in the City of Wayne, located in Wayne County.

"It was just mind-blowing – the devastation," he said.

Rippetoe, along with Addison Fire Chief Jerry Morawski, were among the many, many firefighters from numerous departments who aided in the rescue/recovery effort after the William C. Franks Furniture Store exploded around 9 a.m. It's believed a natural gas leak was the cause.

"There were quite a few guys there," Morawski said. "If I had to guess, I would say there were at least 200 specialists there from the different (rescue) teams from Washtenaw, Oakland and Wayne counties."

The massive explosion killed two of the store's employees and severely injured the owner. A person who was driving by at the time of the blast was also injured.

"It was pretty powerful," Morawski said. "Windows across the street were shattered. Buildings were moved from their foundations."

Rippetoe and Morawski were dispatched to the explosion scene as part of the North Oakland Technical Rescue Team.

Established in 2005, the North Oakland Technical Rescue Team consists of 16 community fire departments including Addison and Oxford.

The team's purpose is to provide technical response to emergencies requiring specialized rescue operations.

Morawski and Rippetoe spent about 3˝ hours at the scene helping to shore up what was left of the store's walls, so they wouldn't collapse as rescue workers carefully searched through the seemingly endless amount of rubble and debris.

Rippetoe, who's been with the Addison department since December 2003, said his training as part of the rescue team "brilliantly" prepared him for situation.

"Everything we've ever been trained for is exactly what we did," he said. "The training is definitely worthwhile."

Morawski and Rippetoe were there when the body of the second store employee, a female from Westland, was recovered.

Morawksi said there was "a sense of relief" among the rescue workers when her body was found.

While the rescue workers were saddened they didn't find her alive, Morawski said, "We were kind of glad that at least her family will have closure because we did our job."

After the body was found, Rippetoe said the rescue workers all lined up "so we could pay our respects as the victim was carried out" and placed into the ambulance.

"It was pretty sad," he said.

The incident reminded both Morawksi and Rippetoe of the very first time the North Oakland Technical Rescue Team was called into action.

That was back in April 2006 when a trench collapsed in Addison. One man was killed, but another was saved by the team's efforts.

Rippetoe said the Wayne explosion ranks among the worst incidents he's ever worked on, which includes the trench collapse and the January 2004 propane-related explosion that killed Addison residents Mike Rivest and his 20-month-old son, Gage.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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