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Two area firefighters join rescue team following explosion



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The William C. Franks Furniture store, in Wayne following the Dec. 29 explosion. Photo Provided. (click for larger version)
January 05, 2011 - About a half mile from the scene, Groveland Township Fire Chief Steve McGee recalls the lingering odor of natural gas.

"It's amazing how much glass was near the explosion site—several blocks away windows were blown out," he said.

That's how McGee described the aftermath of a massive explosion about 9 a.m., Dec. 29, that reduced the William C. Franks Furniture store in Wayne to a pile of wood, crumbled drywall, twisted metal and broken bits of furniture. The blast shattered windows at nearby businesses.

McGee is part of the Southeast Michigan All-Hazards Incident Management Team, which activates when an incident overwhelms a local jurisdiction and additional assistance is required.

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"We help out where needed," said McGee. "I was in Wayne about an hour after the explosion and served as a planning section leader. My job was to help coordinate the rescue which included everything from heavy equipment operators, searchers and DPW. One of the problems was it was difficult to shut the gas off which was under the streets and buildings. The piping was from the 1940s and kept breaking when they tried to crimp it closed. There was a threat of secondary explosions."

According to news reports, crews rescued the store owner from the rubble alive and searched for more than 12 hours before recovering the bodies of a salesman and a clerical worker who were killed in the natural gas explosion.

In 2008 Brandon Fire Department Captain/Medic Jerry Wivo and Sergeant/Medic Steve Pappas were selected to become members of the Michigan Urban Search and Rescue Task Force. The two men were certified in technical rescues including high angle ropes, building collapse, confined space and trench. Both are also members of the North Oakland Technical Rescue Team.

Wivo was contacted about an hour after the explosion and arrived in Wayne just before noon, along with a team of eight to assist in the search.

"We were unsure if this was a rescue or recovery," said Wivo, 49, a 23-year veteran of the department. "My team was given a section of the furniture store to search which consisted of removal by hand of concrete, wood and furniture. Once we found a void in the rubble we used a search camera similar to a scope that can reach down under the debris."

The team also used jackhammers and reciprocating saws to assist in the search, he said.

"Dogs were also brought in to help with the search, they could smell victims that were covered up. The building was leveled, yet part of the structure was still standing. You really want to find these victims, but at the same time you can have things fall on you. The secondary collapse is always on your mind. The last thing you want is someone else killed or injured."

Wivo was on the scene for more than nine hours.

"Windows for blocks away were smashed out—glass was down the street. The technology made it so we were not wasting our time. It's a big area, they had good drawings of the building and that really made a difference."

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