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July 3, 1974: the deadliest day in the history of the Vicksburg Fire Department.



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On July 3, 1974, I was 12 years old. I was in the front yard of our First East Street home throwing a football with my neighbor when Engine One went up Openwood Street (now Martin Luther King Drive) from Constitution Station One which would later become Station Six. It is now home to the Vicksburg Main Street Program at the corner of Jackson and Cherry streets.

My father had taken off work from the Vicksburg Fire Department, and we were going to wrestling matches at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. Normally, he would have been on duty at the Central Station. A lieutenant, he was assigned to the office and dispatched incoming calls. In his place that night was a young firefighter with about a year of service.

Shortly after we reached the coliseum and got inside, we received word there had been an explosion and several firefighters were critically injured. We rushed back to Vicksburg.

Engine One had been dispatched to a fire near the Paul Pride Butane Company on Culkin Road. In fact, there was no fire. It was a huge butane leak.

Shortly after they arrived on scene there was an explosion. Speculation at the time said a spark from the spark plugs on the International Fire Engine ignited the butane. No one will ever know for certain.

Aboard Engine One that day were Capt. John Krueger, Lts. Johnny McBroom and David Lewis, along with Pvt. Jimmy Gibbs.

McBroom had swapped shifts with another firefighter that day. He was driving the truck with Krueger riding shotgun, and the other firefighters were on the back of the truck.

Plant owner Pride said in 1974 that he tried to warn the firefighters of the leak, but the explosion happened so quickly that he couldn’t reach them in time.

Kreuger had stood up on the sideboard of the truck. The explosion blew him into a ravine. He was found about a half-hour after the blast.

Jimmy Gibbs with Vicksburg Mayor Nat Bullard and Alderman Don Barnes at the dedication of the fire truck that replaced the one burned in 1974. (Photo courtesy of the Gibbs family)

Lt. Lewis was overtaken by flames. Pvt. Gibbs tried to put them out with his bare hands, burning himself in the process. His hands literally melted.

Lt. McBroom was burned over 90% of his body as the flames engulfed the truck cab. He would later walk to the ambulance under his own power. When he arrived at Mercy Hospital, he wanted them to patch him up so he could get back to the fire. He died the next day.

Capt. Kreuger also passed away July 4, 1974. His movie star good looks had made him an immensely popular firefighter. He, along with a couple others, had been responsible for unionizing the department

Lewis was burned over 80% of his body. He lived four days before succumbing to his injuries. He was the department’s second black firefighter and the first to achieve rank.

Gibbs was hospitalized for months requiring numerous surgeries. I remember going to visit him in the hospital and seeing the pins in his hands where surgeons had worked to reconstruct his fingers. His injuries forced him into a medical retirement. He had been a firefighter for just six months when the explosion occurred. My father had lobbied for him to get the job. His mother worked for my mother at Merchants Bank. A former Marine Corps sniper in Vietnam, Gibbs would face a lifetime of challenges due to his injuries. He married Patsy Landers in 1987 and had two sons, Stefan and Sean. He passed away at the age of 65 in May 2012.

Jimmy Gibbs (Photo courtesy of the Gibbs family)

My father, Samuel Thomas Parker, Jr., spent the remainder of his days on earth blaming himself for not being at work that night. As a veteran firefighter, he felt he would have known to ask more questions and give better information to the responding men. We discussed it on numerous occasions including the night before he died. He sank into a deep depression which turned into alcoholism, leading to a complete breakdown that brought on his own medical retirement less than two years after the explosion.

Station Two on Indiana Avenue is named Memorial Station in honor of these four firefighters. For years, every truck carried a plaque with “Final Alarm” and their names. Somewhere along the way this stopped happening. I would like to see the tradition return.

Some of us will always remember — “Some Gave All.”


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