The devastation that occurred in West Conshohocken on January 27, 1971, was limited physically to a small section of the town.
Yet, the entire community was affected.
The photographs included in this news article show the aftermath of the tragedy.
But the images you will not see here –images that most of you will never see – are far worse.
You do not want to experience the images that are in the memories of the men and women who rushed to help, who offered aid and comfort, and who lost loved ones.
The image of a man, naked, covered in burns from an explosion that had just destroyed his home. As he is wrapped in a sheet and placed in a vehicle to be rushed to a hospital.
The image of a police officer going through town with a bullhorn asking if people know where a little girl and a little boy might be. Knowing that the children likely had not survived the blast at their home. But hoping that you’re wrong.
The image of a backhoe lifting up rubble as people search for the bodies of those two children. The face of the person who tells the backhoe driver to stop as they find bones instead.
The image of a man being thrown across the street by the force of suction as another building explodes.
The face of a mother who just lost her 19 year-old son as he and his brother along with their buddies attempted to fight the fire to save the town.
The face of another mother who had to bury two little kids.
When you look at these photos of buildings destroyed, remember that just hours before these photos were taken, many of these buildings were filled with joy and love.
Please don’t forget the humanity that was lost just because you don’t see it.
Members of the George Clay Fire Company and other area fire companies are seen here on Front Street on the morning of January 28, 1971. You can see the impact of the first explosion and the resulting fire in the houses to the left. At the time this photo was taken, it had been several hours since the natural gas supply had been shut off. Without the source of fuel, the fires had stopped.
This used to be a house. The explosion at this site caused debris to rain down on Front Street. Joseph Powers, a 19 year-old firefighter, was hit by debris and killed. He had graduated from Upper Merion Area High School the year before. At least two other firefighters were hospitalized for days as a result of injuries from this explosion.
Debris is being removed by a backhoe on Front Street. A fire truck from the George Clay Fire Company – still coated in ice – remained on the street at this hour. The temperatures – with the wind chills – were below zero as firefighters from throughout the Freedom Valley and beyond fought to save West Conshohocken.
A backhoe is seen moving into position to remove rubble at a house on Front Street. The men here are searching the site.
Utility workers are seen here on Front Street the morning of January 28, 1971. The large white building in the background is one of the mills that used to line the Schuylkill River in West Conshohocken. The piles of rubble in the middle of the photograph are what remained of houses destroyed the night before.
In Part Five, you’ll read the words of some of the men who fought the fire in West Conshohocken in January of 1971.
The photos are provided as a courtesy by George Clay Fire Company. If you are able to identify any of the individuals in these photographs, please let us know at email@example.com.
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© 2018 Richard McDonough