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Gallery: Tewksbury Fire Department Holds Ceremony for Anniversary of Gas Explosion

“What’s important today is for us to honor their memory.”

Tewksbury Fire Chief Joseph Kearns spoke along with Billerica Fire Department Chaplain John Seiders, remembering the three firefighters who were lost in 1972, when a truck making a propane delivery to the Lowell Gas Company on Chapman Road accidentally hit a pipe, which ignited a massive explosion and fire.

Kearns’ father, Ed Kearns, was a firefighter at the time of the explosion. Lost that night were Tewksbury fire­fight­er William McAllis­ter and Arthur Sutcliffe, driver the of the propane truck.

Billerica fire captain Donald Schultz and Tewksbury fire captain Freder­ick Millett later died from injuries sustained as teams tried to keep the blaze from igniting additional tanks. Dozens were injured.

Former Tewksbury fire captain Bob Fowler reminisced that had the tanks exploded, the resulting force would have been even more devastating.

The honor guard preparing for the ceremony.

Firefighters from surrounding towns including Dracut and Billerica attended.

Also in attendance were survivors of the event and their families, Billerica fire chief Robert Cole, Select Board chair and vice chair Jay Kelly and Jayne Wellman and town manager Richard Monuori. Former TFD captain Bob Fowler, fourth from right, who was injured in the explosion, related how an apparatus flew hundreds of feet through the air, over his head, taking down a tree.

Kearns spoke in remembrance. While the fortieth anniversary was observed in a ceremony at the Novitiate, Covid forced a smaller event.

Chaplain Seiders led a moment of silence and a prayer. “We remember the families of those who lost their lives.” He continued that many who survived were never able to forget the images that were seared into their memories that night.

“Their families loved them through that experience.”

Firefighters from Tewksbury and surrounding towns came out to remember those lost.

At the conclusion of the brief ceremony, the flag was lowered to half staff outside the Center Station.

Learn more about the event that shaped so many lives in this piece from Paige Impink in the Crier and watch the full ceremony now at Tewksbury TV.

Lorna is a 25-year resident of Tewksbury who has written for organizations ranging from the DIA to InformationWeek to a free weekly in New London that sent her to interview the pastry chef at Foxwoods.

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