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'Disaster on North Division': In 1983, six died in tragic propane explosion

Although it happened 35 years ago, it is a tragedy still remembered frequently in local fire and police companies.

On Dec. 27, 1983, six people — five Buffalo firefighters and a neighborhood resident — were killed after a propane explosion at the Chimera Radiator Co. on North Division Street on the city's East Side.

More than 70 people were injured, and the fire damaged more than three dozen homes in the area.

Many Western New Yorkers undoubtedly remember the tragedy, but not because of its wide coverage in the news or the tragic nature of the incident itself — but because they felt it happen. The explosion could be felt as far as 15 miles away.

Buffalo News Reporters Michael Beebe and Robert McCarthy described the scene as "one of the most spectacular fires in the city's history."

In the Dec. 28, 1983, Buffalo News story, firefighter Frank Berodzik was quoted as saying: "In my 25 years of firefighting, I've never seen anything this bad."

A man attempts to comfort one of the victims of the explosion. More than 70 people were reported injured. (News file photo)

At roughly 8 p.m., firefighters initially responded to a call of a propane leak. But when they arrived, the explosion occurred with a loud bang and a huge fireball, destroying the warehouse and neighboring houses.

It was later determined that the propane tanks were illegally stored by the company, which repaired automobile radiators.

Former Gov. Mario Cuomo visited the site of the fire, calling in the National Guard to help with cleanup and declaring it a disaster area.

''What can you say to the families?'' Cuomo said at the time. ''It's stunning because no one can understand why the innocent are struck down.''

The firefighters killed were Matt Colpoys, 47; James Lickfeld, 43; Michael Austin, 39; Michael Catanzaro, 37; and Tony Waszkielewicz, 37. Also killed was Alfred Arnold, 34, a resident of 612 N. Division St.

Another civilian, Mrs. Jesse Arnold, died later on Jan. 24, 1984.

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