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Five Years Later: Police, Fire Chiefs Recall Mardi Gras Drive Explosion

Plum emergency officials recall what they say is one of the most significant emergencies to occur in the borough.

On March 5, 2008, Frank Monaco had been chief of the Plum Police Department for eight months—and he would be called to the scene of what he says is one of the most significant emergencies he's experienced in the borough.

At about 1:39 p.m., a natural gas explosion destroyed a residence at 171 Mardi Gras Drive killing Richard Leith, 64, of Level Green, and seriously injuring his 4-year-old granddaughter, Gianna Pettinato—Leith, who died at the hospital following the explosion, was babysitting the little girl.

A November 2008 National Transportation and Safety Board report determined that the probable cause of the explosion and fire was excavation damage by a third party to a Peoples Natural Gas Co. two-inch distribution line. The damage stripped the pipe’s protective coating and made the pipe susceptible to corrosion and failure.

Three homes were destroyed, and 19 other homes and three cars also sustained damage from the explosion, according to Holiday Park Volunteer Fire Department Chief Larry Glass.

Training in North Park that day, Monaco received a phone call about the explosion. When he arrived close to an hour later, what he saw was "overwhelming.

"There was nothing left," he said. "It was a tremendous explosion. There was a big piece of roof hanging on a tree. I was astounded."

Glass, who had been on scene within minutes of the initial call, said the first 15 minutes were "total chaos." Glass, a former firefighter in Florida, has been on-scene at large emergency events, but he said this was the first time something of this nature occurred in Plum.

"Companies were pulling up and they were in total awe," he said. "A lot of our people hadn't faced anything like this. It was pretty intense for the first 15 minutes. Our priority was getting people out of the hot zone."

Those who were injured immediately were treated, and within 40 minutes, Glass said residents had been evacuated and the gas line had been shut off.

Monaco—he responded to the Flight 93 crash on Sept. 11, 2001, and a house explosion during his time with the state police—said the Mardi Gras Drive incident is by far the biggest thing emergency to occur in Plum during his time as cheif.

"The explosion in Greensburg wasn't nearly as bad," he said. "This was an extraordinary explosion. It blew everything away. It's hard to believe that little girl survived. A man died trying to save his granddaughter, and I am just glad no one else was hurt."

For some time after the explosion, Glass and Monaco said people in the community were concerned. Officials evacuated nearby Adlai Stevenson Elementary the day after the explosion due to an unrealted gas leak on Holiday Park Drive.

Local firefighters were "exhausted" after the incident, Glass said. He said they were called to the neighborhood about two times a day for a smell of gas up until a month after the incident.

"Our membership really went up that year," he said. "People really noticed what we do as volunteers."

The family filed a lawsuit in 2008 and reached a $2.9 million settlement in 2010, according to the Tribune Review.

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