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Midtown manhole explosion leaves firefighter, EMS, and Con Edison personnel injured

The manhole which exploded, inuring three.
Photo by Dean Moses

A mighty manhole blast rocked Midtown Manhattan during the early hours of Sunday morning, injuring three workers.

Residents along East 56th Street were given a rude awakening by an ear-splitting explosion on Feb. 28 following reports of multiple manhole fires before dawn.

According to FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief John Sarrocco, firefighters had been on the scene since 4:30 a.m., when they responded to smoke emitting from numerous manholes. 

“Units responded in about three or four minutes. They got on scene and found multiple manholes with smoke issuing from it. We did searches throughout all of the buildings on each side of the street, on 56th Street between First and Second Avenue. The situation seemed to be under control at that point,” Sarrocco said.

FDNY, EMS, and Con Edison personnel remained in the area for several hours. Everything looked to be secure until about 7:40 a.m., when a massive blast injured three first responders, each from the aforementioned emergency services. Immediate backup support was requested at the scene.    

Firefighters overlook work on a manhole. Photo by Dean Moses

“We had multiple power outages on 56th Street between First and Second Avenue with rising CO levels in various buildings,” Sarrocco said. “We escalated the incident to have a second alarm assignment respond, which consists of approximately 200 firefighters. Those firefighters had to do extensive searches of buildings on 56th Street between First and Second. Checking all of the elevators because there are multiple power outages. We also have civilians that need electricity for life support systems. Those people were being evaluated by FD personnel. This is a long and extensive operation, which is still going on right now. We had 3 injuries, one to an EMS operation personnel from the explosion, one from Con Ed from the explosion and we also had one firefighter injured with difficulty breathing during the operation. Right now, things are starting to settle down. CO levels have dropped within the buildings.” 

FDNY officials erected a mobile command center while Con Edison employees worked on several manholes. The street was completely cut off from traffic as NYPD and FDNY officials maintained a vigilant watch over the proceedings as the morning wore on to ensure another explosion would not take place.

Still, this didn’t soothe the minds of those who heard the eruption with their own ears.    

FDNY erected a command center on the scene. Photo by Dean Moses

Henry Smith, 17, and his mother were jolted awake by a resounding boom. They reside on the 10th floor of an apartment just overlooking the street where the explosion occurred.

“It was really smoky,” Smith said, describing the experience as akin to waking up in a war zone. After a few minutes, he left his apartment building and could smell a strong gas odor. Smith shared that the fire department warned that his building might have to be evacuated.

“It was just a boom. I was fine but it scared my mom. We live on the 10th floor, but my mom wanted to evacuate” Smith told amNewYork Metro.

According to Con Edison, one of their employees is having his hearing evaluated after being in close proximity to the exploding manhole.  

Con Edison believes that these manhole fires are most likely related to the influx of snowstorms New York has been experiencing over the past few weeks. A representative shared that when the melting snow and ice mix with road salt, it gets into the manholes.

The investigation into what caused the blast is still ongoing.

Raised to a 2-alarm fire, over 200 firefighters responded. Photo by Dean Moses 
First responders have been at the scene since 4:30 am. Photo by Dean Moses

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