LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — It has been nearly three months since a massive explosion engulfed firefighters on top of a ladder in flames while they battled a blaze at a downtown Los Angeles building.
“It was just chaos,” Ian Soriano, one of the injured firefighters, said. “It looked like a war zone.”
In total, 12 Los Angeles Fire Department firefighters were injured fighting the May 16 blaze at a smoke shop. And, on Wednesday, they returned to the hospital where they were treated to talk about what happened and their roads to recovery.
“We started bailing from the roof, down our aerial ladder, and pretty much at that point it sounded like a 747 was flying over our heads,” Soriano, who was the second to last firefighter to get off the ladder, said. “The ground was shaking, the roof was shaking.”
Fire crews were originally called to the building for a report of a commercial fire. While battling the growing blaze, a huge explosion caused this smoke and huge flames to burst into the air — causing firefighters to quickly retreat.
“When I was stuck and couldn’t move, that was my whole, ‘I’m done, I’m dying right here,” Soriano said. “It seemed like I was stuck for 30 seconds, it might have been a second, but in my head it seemed like an eternity, and it was just a sense of relief when my buddy pulled me off that aerial ladder.”
Stephen Osterberg was another one of the firefighters injured. He was battling the blaze from inside the building.
“Once we started making out way out, it kind of just turned into, we couldn’t see anything,” he said. “It was just kind of a fireball in there.”
Osterberg was one of the firefighters with the worst injuries, suffering from third-degree burns over about 30% of his body.
“We were kind of laying on the ground crawling out, so everything on the front didn’t get burned, because we were laying down,” he said. “But the majority of my body on the back, and arms and hands, are kind of burned up.”
The chief of Station 9, the last firefighter to get off the ladder, was also badly injured. He stayed on the roof of the building to ensure the rest of his team was out of harm’s way.
But now, after months of recovery, many of the injured were back together — reunited with the health care staff that healed them.
“I want the people of Los Angeles to know you have an amazing fire department,” LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said. “So thank you. Thank you to our members, our firefighters. It’s good to see all of you.”
Investigators said they believe the fire and explosion we caused by butane tanks inside of the business.
As for the firefighters, while not all have been cleared to return to work, the department said that was the ultimate goal.