Recordings reveal devastation responders faced

September 13, 2010 8:03:10 PM PDT
Dramatic pictures tell the story of the devastation and the heroic effort of emergency crews in the face of the San Bruno explosion and fire. But now, we are hearing how it unfolded. Radio traffic the tower at SFO, San Mateo Fire and Cal Fire show just how huge the response was to the explosion.

Some of the first reports of the San Bruno explosion came from commercial pilots over San Francisco International Airport.

The first fire crews on the scene did not quite comprehend what they were about to face.

SM County Fire/Cal Fire: "Control, this is Engine 77, we're headed north on Bayfront Expressway, is there a large fire, approximately the Redwood-San Carlos border, large, must be 50 foot flames in the air."

But it was much larger -- so big, that they believed the false reports.

SM County Fire/Cal Fire Dispatch: "There's a plane down, we're getting multiple responses reported."

For nearly an hour, crews operated under the assumption that a commercial airliner had crashed.

SM County Fire/Cal Fire: "We got multiple houses, we're trying to get close, we have extreme heat. We have possibly several blocks on fire at this time."

As the minutes pass, firefighters begin to understand the enormity of the job they face.

SM County Fire/Cal Fire: "Call for a fourth alarm for this, looks, it appears we have a plane down in the neighborhood, multiple structures on fire and we have a fireball still coming out."

And it dawns on them that they have a serious problem.

SM County Fire/Cal Fire: "Stop that engine, we have no water in this hydrant, we need them to lay into us."
SM County Fire/Cal Fire Incident Commander: "Copy that, Engine 38, go ahead."
SM County Fire/Cal Fire: "We think we got a broken water main down here, so they need to lay in from the corner of San Bruno Avenue."

Firefighters have to stand back and watch, while long hoses are run to working hydrants or supplemental water is trucked in.

SM County Fire/Cal Fire: "Engine 33 on Command 31, what's the ETA for water?"

Too long and too dangerous to wait.

SM County Fire/Cal Fire: "From engine 5-1, we're going to disconnect hose lines and back up to a safer position until we get water."

Even when there's good news, it comes with the bad.

SM County Fire/Cal Fire: "Can you relay a message to command, we have an active hydrant at Claremont and Concord, also a patient with severe third degree burns at the1500 block of Claremont, we will require an ambulance at that location."

SM County Fire/Cal Fire: "We are at a school on Crestview and currently, there is a grove of eucalyptus, the fire is heading towards us, if it gets into the eucalyptus, we got problems over here."

Nearly an hour after the explosion, a firefighter accurately pinpoints the cause.

SM County Fire/Cal Fire: "It does not appear that this is an aircraft down. It appears this is some sort of natural gas explosion."

Many individual dramas play out.

SM County Fire/Cal Fire: From 6-2, be advised, San Mateo P.D. has reports of occupants trapped in 1651 Claremont, copy, 1651 Claremont."

San Mateo Fire called for mutual aid from departments across Northern California and Cal Fire.

SM County Fire/Cal Fire: "This is a natural gas leak and explosion, multiple structures, multiple vehicles, not as large a wildland area as we originally thought."

Fire fighters spent hours extinguishing the flames.


Load Comments