AVELLA (KDKA) — On a February night in 2011, a patch of Independence Township exploded into a fireball.

“You always expect the worst, no matter what, but this gas well business was all new to us,” said Avella Fire Chief Eric Temple.

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Vapors from fracking tanks at a Marcellus Shale gas drilling site ignited. Three workers were injured.

The tiny Avella Volunteer Fire Department was first on scene.


“The first thing was to get there and see if there was people injured that we could help get out of there,” said Chief Temple.

Watching coverage of the fertilizer plant fire in West, Texas, Chief Temple can identify with those volunteers.

“That was a rural area about our size,” he said.

The loss of life hits home.

“You feel bad for them because they are brothers and sisters in volunteer fire departments,” the chief added.

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Gas wells now dot much of the Washington County landscape, demanding special firefighting skills.

“Range Resources provided a lot of training for us,” Temple said.

In the event of a gas well explosion, the drilling company would fly in a team to cap the fire.

“It may burn for days, you know, that’s the one thing they told us in the training,” said Temple

Seventy-percent of all fire companies in the country are volunteer. Every year, on average, 100 of them give their lives on the job while protecting their communities.

“We could use help,” says the chief.

Temple was raised in a firefighting family, but believes, like most places, volunteers may be an endangered species.

“There’s no new guys coming,” he said. “The kids don’t want to be involved no more, and it’s every fire department, not just here in Avella.”

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Photo Gallery of the Plant Explosion
CBS Dallas-Fort Worth’s Coverage of the Explosion
Authorities Identify Workers Injured In Gas Well Fire (2/24/11)
More Avella News
More Washington County News