Canada

‘You get back on and ride again’

Warren Gerard November 26 1979
Canada

‘You get back on and ride again’

Warren Gerard November 26 1979

‘You get back on and ride again’

Engineer Keith Pruss was in the middle of a nightmare. "It was like a small Hiroshima. It was just like flaming hell back there. I had visions of all those homes being engulfed."

Only seconds earlier the 106-car freight train—carrying highly explosive and poisonous chemicals, including propane and chlorine—had derailed. At the time Pruss didn't know what had happened. He didn't even know the train had come off the tracks. He knew only that it had stopped. And he knew what it was carrying.

“I asked Larry if he wanted to try to free the other tankers. I said, 'You don’t have to, but if you want to have a crack at it, you can.’ ” Larry Krupa, 27, was Pruss’s I trainman, and, incidentally, the 51-year-old engineer’s son-in-law. Krupa is a shy man, not given to many words. "Okay," was all he said.

Krupa became a hero that night. Pruss said his son-in-law—whom he wondered whether he would ever see again—jumped from the locomotive and raced into "the great ball of fire.” As he did, an explosion | rocked Mississauga, was heard 30 miles

away, and a giant tanker was hurled into the sky.

Krupa ran alongside the tracks until he found where the train had derailed. It was behind the 32nd car. He started working to uncouple the cars that were still standing

on the tracks. Suddenly, only a short distance from where he was working, another two cars exploded. He finished the job. The heat was searing. Later, he would only say: "It was warm. I wanted to save what I could.”

Pruss waited. "He wasn't hurt, thank God, but I'll tell you—I’m his father-in-law and I wouldn’t have done that. He’s the boy who deserves the credit. If he hadn’t done that, more than half of [Mississauga] would have gone up.”

Meanwhile, in the engine cab, Pruss was in communication with a CP Rail dispatcher who told him to get the train out of the area. Just then a fourth car went “straight into the air.” Pruss moved the front end of the train at all possible speed to Cooksville, IV2 miles away, preventing several more tank cars of propane from exploding.

"I figured all the people waiting at the crossings were burned to death. I was told to get the hell out of there and run, and I'd have run anyway." Later, he found that no one was killed. "It was a miracle and I thank God for that.”

The next night Pruss was back on the track, driving a train similar to the one that derailed in Mississauga back to London, but by a different route. “That’s my job. We do that all the time. It's kind of like riding a bike. You get back on and ride again, or you won’t do it.” Warren Gerard