7 firefighters injured after truck fire, explosion on I-295

May 31, 2012 8:46:29 PM PDT
Seven firefighters were injured, one seriously, after a truck fire and explosion on Interstate 295 in Burlington County.

The big tractor trailer has been removed from I-295 in Florence Township, but one firefighter is still battling a critical injury Thursday night.

The injured firefighter, identified by family and friends as Brian Richardson, remains in critical condition in the Intensive Care Unit at Capital Health Trauma Center in Trenton, N.J.

Officials say it all began at around 1:30 p.m. Thursday as a box truck carrying oranges caught on fire and exploded on southbound 295 near mile post 52 in Florence Township.

Six other firefighters, from Florence and Mansfield townships, were taken by ambulance to Lourdes Medical Center in Willingboro for evaluation. All have been treated and released.


At least six different fire departments responded to the fire.

New Jersey State Police say the fire appears to have started near the rear brakes or brake line and spread into the trailer.

"Our understanding is what happened is when they got there, the back of the truck was on fire, they went to open the back of the truck, that's when it exploded," Ralph Shrom of the Burlington County Emergency Response said.

According to a spokesperson, Richardson is a career fire marshal and has been with the volunteer fire company more than 15 years.

"Brian is a great guy. He's a close personal friend of mine, as well as everyone in the department, and we wish him a speedy recovery," said Battalion Chief Steve Taylor.

Police say truck driver Jeffrey Gaines from Philadelphia was carrying a truck load of oranges when he noticed smoke coming from the rear wheels. He pulled off the road just before the trailer caught fire and firefighters responded.

"They were attacking what appeared to be a small fire in the brakes, and were attempting to open the truck to investigate further," said Chief Taylor.

Richardson was airlifted to the hospital with the most severe injuries. He was hit hard by one of the trailer's doors.

The other firefighters were treated and released at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Willingboro with minor injuries.

Chief Taylors says this was the first time the department has had so many firefighters injured and never to this magnitude.

Traffic on 295 was snarled for several hours as officials worked to clear the scene.

Richardson's cousin Wendy McManis says she is heart stricken, as are many of his fellow firefighters.

"He's like part of the family, he was hurt very badly and the other firefighters as well. They are always willing to help out around here, and we appreciate the fire company very much so," said Wendy.

The cause of the explosion is still under investigation.