Friday, January 21, 2011

Gas Explosion Rocks NE Philly

If you follow the national news networks you would have seen the story about a major gas explosion in the Tacony neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia earlier this week.  As with most major incidents that occur in the city our Salvation Army Disaster Services team was there. 
This incident was a bit unique for us from a couple of perspectives.  For starters this incident started off much differently than it ended up.  We received a notification from the city that originally was classified as a “water main break with an odor of gas in the area”.  The first units on scene quickly realized that gas was evident heavily throughout a 4 square block area and began evacuations of nearby homes and business immediately.  Because of the evacuations this triggered our response and so we began mobilizing one of our canteens (a mobile feeding unit that provides on scene assistance to first responders and disaster survivors).
Our canteen arrived on scene in less than 40 minutes from the original call.  By this time a full response from the fire department as well as the Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) was engaged on scene trying to locate the source of the leak.  Our canteen normally would have reported to the scene to check in with command, but due to the large number of evacuees, we reported directly to the reception center that was setup 2-3 blocks away at neighborhood recreation center.
Within minutes of arriving on scene a major explosion took place that leveled one building and cause significant damage to many others.  In addition to the physical damage, one firefighter and three PGW workers were severely injured and one PGW worker left missing.  Our canteen, even though more than 2.5 blocks away, was rocked by the massive explosion.
The explosion then prompted a major incident response by our office bringing more volunteers and equipment to the scene.  Initially we had planned to move the canteen up to the scene, but once the fire erupted in the intersection we immediately decided to stay put until Philadelphia Fire Department (PFD) officials deemed the area more secure. 
In the end it was a good decision not just for safety, but because more than 80 individuals had arrived at the reception center, 24 from one retirement community alone.  Our team had immediately began providing comfort to individuals in the form of blankets, hot chocolate and emotional and spiritual care (ESC).  In coordinating closely with the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management (OEM), we also began registering folks into the center.  With the circumstances literally changing by the minute and the situation down at the scene turning drastically, the tracking and accountability of the individuals in neighboring properties became all the more important.
After more than 90 minutes fire still raged in the intersection of Disston St. and Torsedale Ave. where the incident took place.  Around this same time our canteen relocated from the evacuation center, down to the staging area about a block away from the scene.  EDS Staff coordinated directly with officials at the command post that was established across the street from the explosion.  At the same time, volunteers began serving first responders who were aggressively trying to contain the fire and shut down the leak. 
After more than four and half hours, the fire was finally put out and placed under control.  Once this was done emergency workers immediately began searching for the missing PGW worker who was regrettably killed in the explosion. 
The reception center was finally closed around 1:00 AM and our crew was released by the fire department around 2:30 AM.  In total nearly 20 gallons of hot drinks were served between the scene and the evacuation center and more than 12 individuals were counseled by ESC volunteers working from the center. 
Responding to events like this would not be possible without dedicated volunteers.  We would be remiss if we did not than all of those involved in Tuesday’s response to this very devastating incident.  If you are interested in learning more about how to volunteer go to
After every major response we look back on lessons learned and begin to plan for future responses of similar nature.  One of the greatest things this incident on Tuesday evening reminded us of, was safety and accountability of personnel.  At times during disaster accountability seems to be an after-thought.  Events like this one though help to reiterate the importance of having safety first in every single response we do.  At the end of the day we never know what ‘s around the next corner.

To see more photos of this and other Pendel EDS responses check out our face book page at

Friday, January 14, 2011

Busy Week in EDS

Sometimes in Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) we see a major fire or other incident that goes from routine to something a bit more substantial.  For us we classify those as “major responses”.  These responses take more volunteer support, more feeding and generally more overall resources to handle than our average response.  This past week we not only see one, but THREE major responses!
The chain of events started on Sunday morning with a 5 alarm fire in Charter School in West Philadelphia.  The fire that started in the basement quickly spread throughout the entire building, bringing in 5 alarms worth of equipment totaling more than 150 fire and emergency personnel.  Our EDS Canteen was on scene within the first hour and provided hot drinks, gloves, hand warmers and snacks to personnel for more than 6 hours.

On Monday the second major response turned out to be far more severe than Sunday’s, as fire quickly engulfed a 5 story apartment building in West Philadelphia (less than 10 blocks from the previous days fire).  The 90 unit apartment building had fire quickly spreading throughout as firefighters worked to contain the blaze.  More than 100 people took shelter in a neighboring High School, before being relocated because the smoke from the fire began entering that building as well.
Our EDS canteen arrived on scene less than 30 minutes from the initial call and began serving both firefighters and evacuees from the apartments.  EDS staff on scene coordinated with the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and Red Cross to setup the reception center to assist the evacuated residents.  Roughly 2 hours into the response EDS had 3 units (a canteen and two support units) and 8 personnel working between the scene and the reception center serving both residents and emergency personnel.
Our team was on scene for more than 9 hours that first night and served more than 180 dinner meals between the scene and the shelter.  The Salvation Army volunteers provided feeding at the shelter sight throughout the night with hot and cold drinks, snacks and other items.  Emotional and Spiritual Care (ESC) team members working at the shelter provided counseling to more than 70 individuals and had prayer with at least seven of the residents directly.  It was a very long and cold night as temperatures fell into the low 20’s that evening with a wind chill in the teens.
On Tuesday (1/11) we continued to provide service to the shelter residents.  About 20 residents spent that first night in the makeshift Locke School shelter and EDS volunteers provided breakfast and snacks to them and shelter workers that day.  A service center was then setup by OEM to assist with initial assistance from the Red Cross and Salvation Army EDS provided lunch to the 120 people that came seeking assistance.
A request came in the early afternoon for dinner and we were hopeful then that this may be the last meal needed at the shelter so we could begin ramping down our operations….that was not to be.  As dinner was being cooked another fire was dispatched this time in the Kensington section of Philly, and EDS crew were quickly called to that scene as well. The fire on Tuesday in a vacant warehouse building quickly spread to 4 alarms and due to smoke and flying embers caused the evacuation of nearby homes.  Complicating this already massive response was the second big winter storm of the season, predicted to dump 5-8 inches on the Delaware Valley. 
As the shelter operation ramped down and the last few individuals were placed in hotel for the week, our services too came to a close. Volunteers and equipment were redeployed to the fire scene in Kensington to assist there with feeding and hydration services.
Wednesday morning brought more tragedy as EDS responded to a seemingly routine house fire in North Philly, only to find that a mother and 3 children had died in the blaze.  EDS team members provided ESC to neighbors and family members that had come to the scene.  These types of fires prove to us time and again that nothing is ever “routine”.
As we continue to ramp up our recovery efforts for the 118 individuals from Monday’s apartment fire, we thank the Lord for getting everyone out safely.  At the same time we pray for the family of Wednesday’s fire and the grieving they are doing for their loved ones lost. 

Volunteer Sue Guyman serving chief's

We like to say in EDS that no two days are ever the same.  Many hours of service by dedicated volunteers helped to make our efforts this week possible and a sincere THANK YOU goes out to them all.  We are proud to serve in this unique service ministry of The Salvation Army and continue to do so through disaster big and small, with tragedy and miracles, and even in the unwelcome snowfall that happens sometimes.
Will keep you posted as our recovery operations unfold, so until next time….

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Newest Arrival for the EDS Fleet

As of Friday (January 7, 2010) or latest addition to the fleet of disaster vehicles was placed into full service.  We actually took delivery of the 2010 Ford pick-up truck in early October of last year, but just completed the final outfitting on Friday, thus making it completely ready for service!  This truck is our first new vehicle since replacing our previous pick-up truck (a 2002 F-250) with our Chevy Suburban back in 2008. 
The pick-up truck unit numbered S-2 (the ‘S’ designating it as a support vehicle that handles cargo primarily) came about based in large part on our service during last winter’s ridiculous THREE major snow storms, combining for a record breaking nearly 80 inches of snow.  During the storms last year we were asked by the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management (OEM) to help deliver meals to the plow crews operating around the clock to clear snow.  We were able to accomplish the task with our two Ford Econoline series vans, both equipped with snow chains, but it was still not without some struggles negotiating the many feet of accumulated snow on the city streets. 
We had for some time discussed a need for an additional support vehicle, but the snow storms showed us that we were in definite need of that vehicle to be 4-wheel drive.  In June of last year we set out to looking into what vehicles would be best suited for our operations and settled on the Ford F-150 as the best vehicle for the variety of functions we perform.
The truck we purchased is a 4-door, mid-size bed (measuring 6’ 8” in length) equipped with 4 wheel drive and a heavy duty towing package.  After the bidding process was complete and we had the vendor approved, we purchased the 2010 Ford F-150 pick-up truck, and proceeded to outfit the vehicle as need to support our local and divisional response operations.
The first item we added was a spray on bed-liner to the rear cargo bed to help protect it during its inevitable heavy future use.  Next we had a Lear cargo cap installed to help keep our equipment and supplies out of the elements.  We purchased the necessary radios, scanners and lighting and had all of it installed by Havis, a local emergency vehicle outfitter in Warminster, PA which completed the list of necessary upgrades from the truck’s factory form.
Although it has taken us nearly three months to complete the outfitting and make the vehicle 100% ready for response, it has not been sitting idly by.  We put the vehicle in service within its first week picking up a donation we received from the division.  Additionally the new truck proved ideal for transport during our latest bout with Mother Nature in which we received over a foot of snow the day after Christmas.  In support of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Philly the truck allowed us to transport both meals and personnel across the cities snow cover streets safely and without incident.
We hope that this truck will service us well over the coming years as we continue to provide support to communities across the Eastern PA and DE Division.  Additionally this newest unit will help us to enhance the capabilities we currently provide, and to continue providing the type of disaster relief and emergency response that our communities have come to expect.
To see more photo’s of our support truck check out our Facebook page at:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

EDS enters the Blog-o-sphere


We have finally made it to the world renowned blog-o-shpere.  It has take us some time to get all of our ducks in a row, but we have arrived to this latest entry into our social media toolbox here in the Pendel Division. 

We hope you will enjoy our posts here in the future.  We look forward to giving you some insight into the wonderful world of Emergency Disaster Services (EDS). 

What kind of things will you find here on Pendel EDS Speak?  Well we are glad you asked!  We will be posting on current events such as large or out of the ordinary responses, major disaster operations and other interesting and out of the ordinary engagements by our staff and volunteers.  We also hope to bring you some disaster preparedness tips and "nice to know" type information that we hope can help you and your family prepare for today's disasters scenarios. 

As always our biggest hope s that we can provide you a little glimpse into The Salvation Army's, Disaster Services program, that you might not otherwise see.  EDS is an integral part of the overall mission of the Army and great way for neighbors to get involved by helping neighbors. 

We look forward to posting over these next few weeks and months and hope that you will enjoy what we have to share.

God bless!