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The Daily



10-02-03: 2nd firefighter dies following silo explosion


NEW KNOXVILLE — A second area firefighter died Wednesday morning due to injuries he sustained in an explosion at Hoge Lumber in New Knoxville, where local firefighters were putting out a silor fire.
New Bremen firefighter John Garman was pronounced dead at 11:27 a.m. Wednesday at St. Rita’s Medical Center in Lima. New Bremen firefighter Kenneth Jutte died earlier at 9:40 a.m. at Joint Township District Memorial Hospital, St. Marys.
Firefighters were fighting a fire in a 71-foot-tall silo containing sawdust when the explosion occurred. The top of the concrete silo was blown off and chunks of concrete were thrown several hundred feet away.
Jutte and New Bremen firefighter Scott Albers were on top of the silo when it exploded and both were thrown to the ground. Auglaize County Coroner Thomas Freytag this morning said Jutte’s death was more likely caused from the explosion than the fall.
Garman, standing in the bucket of the aerial truck, fell to the ground as debris struck the bucket, according to officials at the scene.
Albers was listed in good condition this morning at St. Rita’s Medical Center in Lima.
Nine others, which included seven firefighters and business owner John Hoge and his son, Jack, were taken to area hospitals with various injuries. New Knoxville firefighter Brent Lauth was listed in fair condition at the Lima hospital this morning, but no other names of the injured firefighters were released.
Firefighters were first dispatched to the scene around 7 a.m. Wednesday on a report of a fire at the bottom of the silo. New Knoxville volunteer firefighters were dispatched to the scene first and then called the New Bremen department to use its aerial ladder truck. As firefighters worked, the silo’s concrete top blew-off about 9 a.m.
New Knoxville Fire Chief Scott Schroer this morning said the firemen were trying to suppress dust in the silo to prevent an explosion when the accident occurred. He said the firemen were doing everything they should have been doing, and he feels the explosion is linked to an “unknown element.”
Officials from the Ohio State Fire Marshal’s Office in Colum-bus are investigating the explosion. The cause still remains undetermined this morning, according to Sally Wagner, a spokeswoman for the fire marshal.
Schroer, who has been with the New Knoxville department for 16 years, said he recalls being called to Hoge for a silo fire just one other time.
A structural engineer will look at the silo as soon as possible to determine whether it can be repaired or needs to be torn down, Schroer said. The silo still was smoldering today and 10 New Knoxville firefighters remained on the scene.
On Wednesday afternoon the cement silo stood weakened by the explosion and riddled with cracks. Water from the firefighters’ earlier attempts to douse the fire within, trickled down to the ground.
“We’re moving you back,” one of the firefighters told Michael Hurick of the Auglaize County chapter of the American Red Cross. “We think the silo’s going to fall.”
Hurick and several others quickly moved a table of refreshments, which had been provided for those on the scene. More yellow police tape was draped around the Hoge Lumber Company parking lot as New Knoxville police officers ordered everyone but firefighters to move across Ohio 29.
As of press time today, the silo remained intact.
Just across the highway, which was closed to traffic by mid-afternoon, Margarie Kuck mowed her backyard, almost oblivious to the nearby scene.
“I was in my bedroom when I heard the explosion,” said the 87-year-old, as she turned off her lawn mower. “It was the loudest noise I’ve ever heard.”
Kuck said she first went down to her basement fearing her old furnace had exploded. Earlier she had heard the familiar sound of sirens across the road and assumed the fire department was converging on the lumber yard.
“There’s been fires in those silos before,” she added.
Her husband, who died several years ago, was a former engineer at Hoge and helped design the silos, she said. It’s not uncommon for heat to build up inside one of the towering structures filled with wood chips and sawdust, he had told her many times before.
Next to Kuck’s home, flanked by the village park, Evangelical Protestant Cemetery was heavily dotted with small, white flags. The flags represented pieces of debris, mostly cement, that landed some 200 yards or more from the silo that exploded.
Inside the office of the Hoge Lumber Company, a secretary worked tirelessly answering the telephone. Calls from the curious, the media and family and friends of the business streamed in all day, she said.
“Sorry, no one is here to comment,” she said politely to one caller as she hung up the phone.
“Not everyone is as understanding. Everyone wants answers,” she told The Daily Standard.
But there were no answers. No one yet knew why the silo started on fire or why it exploded as the brave firefighters battled the heat from above.
Schroer and several state fire marshals stood next to the police tape that bounced wildly in the brisk wind. While waiting, they held their own vigil of sorts for the victims many of them knew personally.
And as they stared at the structure, smoke still rising from its blown-off top, one unidentified firefighter took off his hat and laid it on the ground.
“I just can’t believe this happened,” he said as he shook his head and slowly found a spot on the ground to rest.


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