Harrisonburg firefighters to reflect on Saturday’s explosion response

Harrisonburg Firefighters hosing down explosion debris from the Miller Circle shopping center.
Harrisonburg Firefighters hosing down explosion debris from the Miller Circle shopping center.(WHSV)
Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 9:39 AM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Saturday’s shopping plaza explosion along miller circle in Harrisonburg reached 3-alarms, which means several agencies from around the Valley rushed to help. It started because of a natural gas leak.

Now, firefighters are reflecting on the way they responded to the scene that morning and it could impact their training.

“The last time that there was a similar incident to this in the city of Harrisonburg was in 1947, but our firefighters train as if this could happen at any time and so they’re prepared for these kinds of emergencies,” Fire Chief Matthew Tobia said.

Since stepping into the fire chief position in June, Matthew Tobia said he wanted every community incident to be a learning opportunity.

While still in the recovery phase now, Tobia tells me the Harrisonburg Fire Department will be doing an after-action report soon.

“A lot of my firefighters are still processing this event. They’re still capturing their thoughts," Tobia said. "I’ve asked them all to put down into written word what they observed, what they thought we did really well, and what we could do better in the future.”

Tobia says HFD has received praise for their response to Saturday’s explosion, which he says is also a reflection of all the agencies who responded, but he adds there is always room for improvement.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect incident," Tobia said. "So we are going to look very carefully at what we can do better the next time.”

He said they’ll continue doing training that helped them handle Saturday’s blast so well, but also focus on handling incidents lasting longer than usual.

“As you have seen in this incident, this actually went on for several days and so thinking strategically about how to support an incident that lasts over a course of days is going to be very important to us," Tobia said.

Tobia said he was impressed with the response of HFD firefighters.

“Their lifetimes of training have culminated in their ability to ready for this kind of event," Tobia said. "I could not possibly be more proud of the responders who handled this as if it was just like any other incident that they’d respond to.”

He said the people of Harrisonburg should rest easy knowing they have an emergency services team that is prepared for anything.

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