‘Hope to never have one that busy again’: Lawrence Fire Chief remembers Merrimack Valley blasts

LAWRENCE, Mass — Boston 25 News sat down with Lawrence Fire Chief Brian Moriarty to share his memories of a dark day for the area, in advance of the five-year anniversary of the Merrimack Valley gas explosions. Below are excerpts of his conversation with Mark Ockerbloom:

Chief Moriarty: There are so many (memories) and sometimes they flood in and sometimes I just think of it real slow. It was a sudden onslaught of tremendous amount of call volume, all pretty much for the same thing. Everybody was saying ‘Gas pressure, smell, explosions, fires’ and so many at once that it was overwhelming.

Ockerbloom: I was going to say, have you ever had a busier day in your life?

Chief Moriarty: No, no never had a busier day, hope to never have one that busy again. It was a bit crazy, but you know, in that case comes some organization, some calm it’s organized chaos. The deputy fire chief on duty that time was Kevin Loughlin and within the first two calls, he knew what it was. He said ‘We have an over pressured type gas event, contact Columbia Gas, get somebody out here,’ and he hit the nail on the head, that’s what it was.”

Ockerbloom: What lessons were learned that day?

Chief Moriarty: It was a great exercise in our mutual aid system, and the fact that Massachusetts firefighters train and we train the same, we learn the same things we work under the same NIMS: incident management system. We train and experience things, not that big all that time, but when the stuff hits the fan, everybody was there and it was great.”

Ockerbloom: Could this happen again? Is it possible?

Chief Moriarty: Senator Markey, he’s got his plan out there, the rules now for gas companies that they have to have engineered plans. It has to be reviewed they can’t cut on safety and that is what it came down to in the Merrimack Valley, safety was cut.

Ockerbloom: You tell me it’s important to mark this anniversary year, why?

Chief Moriarty: Well I think we need to learn from our mistakes. And if we let utilities get away with cutting corners and being cheap, cheating on safety, we’re going to experience the same thing again. But I also still think gas is safe, I have gas in my house, I think it’s a good utility. I just think we need to stay on the utilities and we need to keep the pressure on to keep them safe. Right now we enjoy an excellent working relationship with Eversource in our city now.

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