Custer City, PA Tank Car Explosion, Sep 1980


Custer City, Pa. (AP) -- Clean-up efforts were halted and hazardous materials experts summoned after a workman was killed in a blast that ripped through a derailed tank car that was being drained of crude oil.
A state police fire marshal Sunday investigated the cause of the blast, which occurred at a train wreck near this community about six miles south of Bradford, McKean County. Federal hazardous materials experts were called to help when the clean-up resumes.
PHILLIP WINTER, 31, North Collins, N.Y., was killed in the blast late Saturday afternoon. He died of apparent asphyxiation while trying to save a worker who was trapped inside the toppled car.
"It's hard to say what happened after he went down in," said Bradford Township policeman Dan Songer. "He went in to help the person inside the tanker."
A Bradford hospital spokeswoman said Sunday night WINTER'S cousin, MARK WINTER was in critical condition with burns. The victim's brother, MARVIN WINTER, was transferred to a burn center in Buffalo, N.Y.
Seven other men, including firefighters and workers helping at the derailment site, suffered shock and inhalation of fumes. Two of them were admitted to the hospital briefly and then discharged.
WINTER and two other working for Winter Railroad Service, a family-run business, were using a high-pressure pump to empty one of more than 20 fallen cars that derailed, exploded and caught fire Wednesday night, said Bradford Fire Chief Ted Shay.
The oil-fed fire, with flames reaching hundreds of feet in the air, forced more than 100 persons to evacuate.
While the Chessie System has not yet confirmed what caused the 84-car train to derail and explode Wednesday, fire officials believe the latest incident was caused by fumes inside the tanker.
"There was no fire," Shay said. "But it could have been a vapor explosion from inside the tank."
One man, who was standing at the top of the tanker looking inside when it blew, was thrown backwards over several cars, police and firefighters said. WINTER, covered with oil, and another man were pulled outside by bystanders and fire firefighters.
The fallen cars were in the process of being scrapped said Fire Capt. John Rimer.
After siphoning some oil from the tanks, workers entered from a fill hole on top, sponged down the sides, and removed the remaining crude, Rimer said.
The emptied tankers were then cut into pieces with acetylene torches and hauled away, he said.

Indiana Gazette Pennsylvania 1980-09-22


Bradford Township train explosion

I responded to this train derailment and toxic fumes in 1980. I was a volunteer EMT in Mckean County, PA. I recall the smell of the fumes being emitted from the derailed trains, as well as several firefighters trying to aid other people who were unconscious. I remember people climbing into the train trying to render aid and then they, too being overcome by the fumes and going unconscious. I learned a great deal that day.