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Harrisonburg Fire Department reflects on Miller Circle explosion

Members of the Harrisonburg Fire Department were some of the first people to arrive on the scene that day
Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 11:10 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 16, 2021 at 1:03 AM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Sunday marks one year since a natural gas explosion leveled a shopping center on Miller Circle in Harrisonburg.

Several people were injured.

Members of the Harrisonburg Fire Department (HFD) were some of the first people to arrive on the scene that day.

Firefighters at HFD’s Station 1 were just down the street when the explosion happened.

“The bay doors rattled. Everything rattled,” Master Firefighter Tyler Burgoine said. “We opened the bay doors and saw a large column of smoke.”

Master Firefighter Brett Biddle used to work for the Department of Defense and with explosives, so he knew what the situation was the second it happened.

“We knew right off the bat something bad had happened. I’d been through explosions before and I pretty much knew what had happened,” Biddle said.

Fire crews piled into the engines and headed toward the smoke that day.

“We had people down on the ground, large volume of fire. Debris in the way of the fire hydrant so we had to have another engine bring us a line,” Burgoine said.

Master Firefighter and paramedic Robert Hilley was on the second engine to arrive.

“I knew when Tyler got there on the first piece, that I could hear in his voice the had a lot going on,” Hilley said. “That was kinda one of the first times I had to sit in the dash of the engine and just take a breath and start compiling all the information I’m getting from the scene cause there was so much going on.”

After the initial shock upon arriving at the scene, their training kicked in and they got to work.

“I knew that whatever the challenge was going to be, that the men and women of this department would be ready to handle it,” HFD Chief Matthew Tobia said.

There were first responders from all over the Valley on the scene.

“You turn around, you have all the help you ever need,” Biddle said.

Crews worked for hours to completely put the fire out.

“What I think about all the time is the fact that we managed to come through that event with no lives lost,” Tobia said.

Now a year later, the team is reflecting on what happened.

“To really think you’re going to have something like that happen in our area, we’re like ‘it’s never going to happen,’ but it can happen anywhere,” Lt. Matt Bauserman said.

The explosion changed some of the fire department’s protocols for dealing with gas odor incidents, and the first responders say the lessons learned will stick with them.

“It’s one of those once-in-a-career type of calls,” Hilley said.

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