Trucker prevents potential tragedy in Vermont

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | 11/23/2015

Manchester, Vt., Fire Chief Philip Bourn has witnessed all kinds of blazes in his 30 years of service. However, Bourn said he was moments away from facing his “worst nightmare.”

If it hadn’t been for what he called “heroic” efforts by 42-year-old truck driver John Matala, Bourn said he may have been forced to evacuate much of the town of 4,300 in Vermont.

On Nov. 12, Matala was badly burned while turning off the valve from a 10,000-gallon propane tank that had inadvertently been left open by a previous driver, Bourn said.

The fire chief said the cloud of propane from the leak covered about an acre, and an explosion could have been catastrophic.

“This would have been the worst nightmare of my life,” Bourn said. “You never know what you’re going to do until you get in that situation. Probably all we could have done would have been to evacuate the area and let it explode, because I couldn’t have put my guys in harm’s way. I probably would have evacuated the whole town and just let it do what it was going to do. Sometimes, that’s all you can do.”

Bourn said Matala’s efforts kept the town from having to endure that nightmare.

A GoFundMe account has been created to help pay for Matala’s medical expenses. An independent contractor from Cambridge, N.Y., Matala reportedly received burns as bad as third degree to nearly 30 percent of his body.

The Manchester Police Department supported the fundraising efforts on its Facebook page.

“It isn’t often that we post fundraising notices on our site, but when someone performs an act of heroism within our community and is injured as a result, I feel compelled to put the word out,” Manchester Police Chief Mike Hall wrote. “Thank you, John Matala, for your bravery. Your actions likely prevented serious injury or the loss of life in our community.”

As of Monday afternoon, $7,175 of the fundraiser’s $10,000 goal had been donated.

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