Will Terrorists Burn 3,000 People to Death in Your Service Area

Propane tank explosion #1

JEMS Editor-in-Chief Chides the Feds and Emergency Planners

In follow-up to the Paris terrorist attacks and using cynicism, shocking facts and dramatic video evidence, JEMS Editor-in-Chief A.J. Heightman takes a “shot” at Congress, Homeland Security and large event organizers and planners, showing them how vulnerable large venues are to terrorist actions and how poorly staffed, equipped and prepared most large venues are for the “big one”!

Dubbing his first idea (tongue-in-cheek) an “IRS” (independent Response System) Unit, A.J. Heightman has conceived a new idea for sending specialty vehicles to high profile or actual Mass Care events.

Chiding the Federal government, A.J. says:
“In an era where the Federal government wants maximum resources available for terrorism, active shooter and Mass Casualty events – BUT CONGRESS AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WON’T ALLOCATE THE FUNDING NECESSARY TO MAKE IT POSSIBLE.

A.J.’s idea is to have reserve units equipped and positioned, ready to go, on a single car carrier that would only require ONE driver to take tons of police, rescue, tactical and EMS supplies to an incident – and have it off-load at one central position. Agency reps can jump in and drive their supplies wherever needed.

IRS System ISIS Response System

A.J.’s “IRS” (Independent Response System) solo-driver resource carrier


Is it the optimal way, probably not, but it would sure be a crowd pleaser!

“Since most cities cannot staff six ready-to-respond terrorism or mass care vehicles on a 24/7 basis, and the federal government seems more interested in funding $500,000 Command and Communications vehicles and not MCI response units and tourniquets, chest seals and hemostatic dressings nationwide, let’s put all our units (eggs) in one basket (a car carrier) and embarrass the crap out of DC by responding in glorious (and in a personnel and budget strapped) manner?”

Has A.J. lost his mind?
Perhaps, but at a recent leadership conference (in a state that will not be mentioned) EMS, law enforcement and fire leaders pointed out to A.J. that they staff football games and concerts and a professional football stadium – packed with 100,000 people, similar to the Paris Soccer Stadium Venue, yet are only provided with three ambulances, 12 EMS personnel, and nine (9) standard trauma and medical kits to handle “anything” – which includes cardiac arrests, medical emergencies, singular traumatic events and football player injuries.

And, while the “bowels of the stadium” (in a multi-million dollar Command and Control room (complete with two dozen cameras) are crawling with two dozen representatives from NFL Security, the FBI, Homeland Security, Fire, local and State police agencies, the American Red Cross, and others, there are minimal response personnel or resources at the ready to handle the carnage that can occur from a terrorist attack.

Calling this level of EMS staffing and lack of EMS/Terrorism/MCI caches “short-sighted, ridiculous, dangerous and embarrassing”, A.J. asks us to think about what will happen when a 20 lb. propane “bomb” is “properly detonated” in a large venue where its exploding flames come out of a “properly detonated” cylinder with its safety relief valve disabled, a “perfected ignition source is activated, and “it spews flames 200 times the expansion factor of its contents”! It’s a frightening image but a realistic one coming from A.J. who studies and teaches the effects of mass casualty incidents and terrorist actions.

Propane tank

A 20 lb. propane tank with a safety release valve still in place

A.J. notes that intelligence sources have reported that one of the Paris terrorists, carrying a 20 lb. propane cylinder, planned on detonating it in the soccer stadium crowd (similar to what Harris and Klebold tried to do at Columbine High School) but failed to get into the stadium and in position in time.

(See Footnote 1)

Harris and Klebold had rigged four 20 lb. propane tanks to detonate and engulf large areas including one area as a diversion to keep delay responders from reaching the high school and extinguish a propane fed fire, one designed to detonate and engulf the entire cafeteria in flames, and one in a parking lot near a fire hydrant to consume the emergency responders.

Propane and gas bombs made by Harris and Klebold
Propane tanks and Gas Cans prepared by Harris & Klebold at Columbine


From USA TODAY (See Footnote 2)
The pair planned the attacks for more than a year, building 100 bombs and persuading friends to buy them guns. Just after 11 a.m. on April 20, they lugged a pair of duffel bags containing propane-tank bombs into Columbine’s crowded cafeteria and another into the kitchen, then stepped outside and waited.
Had the bombs exploded, they’d have killed virtually everyone eating lunch and brought the school’s second-story library down atop the cafeteria, police say. Armed with a pistol, a rifle and two sawed-off shotguns, the pair planned to pick off survivors fleeing the carnage.
As a last terrorist act, a pair of gasoline bombs planted in Harris’ Honda and Klebold’s BMW had been rigged apparently to kill police, rescue teams, journalists and parents who rushed to the school — long after the pair expected they would be dead.
The pair had parked the cars about 100 yards apart in the student lot. The bombs didn’t go off.


But Harris and Klebold, both “A” high school students, were failures in their terroristic planning and execution. Planning to stand outside the school and pick off fleeing students not killed by explosive and consuming flames, had not used the proper detonating device and three of their “propane bombs” failed to go off.

However, other people (via the internet) have since perfected the modification (eliminating their safety valves) and perfected detonation means for these dangerous and deadly (easy-to-procure) weapons of mass destruction.

(See videos that follow for graphic proof of the damage one easy-to-conceal 20 lb. propane tank can inflict)

Experts point out that a propane tank, operating under normal circumstances will not explode or rupture. Safety devices and mechanisms are in place to prevent explosions, accidents and propane tank ruptures or breaches.

(See Footnote 3)

But, when a propane tank is modified, it can explode and result in a fire bomb/BLEVE.

Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion
The term BLEVE is well known among firefighters and hazardous materials response teams and does not solely refer to propane tanks.

A BLEVE occurs when the pressure in the tank exceeds that at which the safety relief valve can safely vent the excess pressure into the outside atmosphere. Relief valves are designed to vent tank pressure at a certain flow rate to the outside atmosphere once the pressure inside the propane tank reaches a certain level and will close once the pressure in the tank falls below that level.

Using something you are familiar, a plastic 3 liter soft drink bottle, let’s look at a simple example of a “safety valve” and “BLEVE”.

Imagine a soft drink bottle has a 1/4″ hole drilled in its side (about the same diameter as the cord on your mouse). This hole functions as the safety relief valve. If you were to blow air into the bottle through the top after unscrewing the cap, the excess pressure in the bottle would be relieved through the opening in the bottle’s side causing no damage to the bottle.

Now – suppose you attached an air hose that screwed onto the bottle top forming a tight seal and the air hose was supplied by a large air compressor. The air compressor starts the flow of air into the bottle which in turn creates more pressure than the small hole (relief valve) in the side of the bottle can keep up with.

The plastic bottle starts to expand and eventually ruptures.

The reason the bottle ruptures is that the amount of increasing pressure inside the bottle is far greater and exceeds that at which the small hole allows to escape. The pressure in the bottle is increasing faster than it can escape through the “relief valve”.

So What is a Propane BLEVE

A propane tank BLEVE will occur when the container is subject to extreme heat, such as in a fire. While the tank is being heated, the liquid propane inside is being heated causing it to expand. If the safety relief valve is not modified and activates, it will allow pressure to vent to the outside atmosphere.

If the safety valve is disabled and/or pressure inside the tank grows to a level exceeding that at which the safety relief valve can expel it from the tank, the propane tank may rupture. If flames or a source of ignition is present (such as a detonator or shotgun blast), the propane will ignite resulting in an explosion.

MYTHBUSTERS showed why the Safety Relieve Valve is so crucial to propane tank safety – BUT THEY CAN BE DEFEATED.

(See video)

They also show why Harris and Klebold, once their poorly wired detonator’s failed to go off, could not get the tanks to explode by shooting at them.

You can pierce a bottle with a shotgun or rifle, but, without an ignition source/source of flame, they will not BLEVE. However, when MYTHBUSTERS used an explosive device they were able to create a massive explosion.

(See video)

A.J.’s closing comments:

“Send this commentary to your elected officials and tell them $500,000 Command and Communications vehicles will be staffed by screaming, panicked, frustrated and distraught incident commanders when a single propane bomb is detonated by a terrorist in a large venue and there are just 12 EMS responders positioned (INSIDE) and around the venue, with just 12 tourniquets, nine inadequately stocked and deployed ‘routine’ use emergency bags and 3 transport units on site and INACCESSABLE because fleeing/stampeding injured and panicked spectators will prohibit them from ever being used!”

Footnotes and videos:

Columbine –Four, 20-lb Propane tanks designed to be detonated and used as fire bombs
1) http://www.acolumbinesite.com/evidence.html
2) http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-04-13-columbine-myths_N.htm

3) Facts about propane tanks and BLEVES:


Watch what happens when some amateurs shoot 20 lb. propane tanks

Shot at 80 yards with a 20 gauge shotgun –

When you modify and defeat a propane tank’s safety valve = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3wXfwwEUt4

Other illustrations of propane tank explosions

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