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Philadelphia Food Truck Explosion Blamed on Leaky Propane Tank

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On July 1, 2014, CBS reported that a Mexican food truck had exploded in a northeast Philadelphia neighborhood, injuring thirteen people, two critically. Flames shot 200 feet into the air, with parts of the truck flying across the street.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette later noted that yearly vehicle inspections often do not include the propane tanks in these vehicles, which was believed to be the cause of the explosion.

Witnesses Report Hearing a “Boom”

According to news reports, the food truck was open for business at the time of the explosion. One of its two propane tanks used to fuel the grills was leaking. It created a vapor cloud that was later ignited to cause the blast. The flames reached so far that two vehicles driving by were engulfed for a brief time. Five people inside those cars were treated for injuries.

Some witnesses reported hearing a boom and then seeing the fire, while others remembered a powerful rocking when the explosion happened. The owner of the truck was a 42-year-old woman named Olga Galdamez, who was operating the truck with her 17-year-old daughter, Jaylin, at the time. Both remain in critical condition.

Investigations are ongoing by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Philadelphia police detectives; and the city fire marshal’s office.

Propane Tank Problems Are Rare

Police said the vehicle was licensed to operate as a food truck, though the propane tanks may have not been subjected to inspection. According to the Post-Gazette, a 2012 New York City fire department study on food trucks found propane cylinders, hot fryer oil and grills, compressed gasses, and high voltage electricity—all potential fire hazards.

Yet it remains unclear whether these types of hazards are subject to any sort of safety requirements. Though the health department puts food trucks through food safety and sanitary inspections, they don’t look at vehicle safety. The Department of Transportation conducts a required yearly vehicle inspection, but doesn’t look at “supplemental” equipment like propane tanks.

A TWC News report on July 2, 2014, quoted other food truck owners who stated they take regular steps to make sure fire hazards are at a minimum. They noted that propane tanks are commonplace not just in their industry, but even in people’s backyards, and that problems are rare.

Determining Liability

This case will likely raise questions as to whether the owners of the food truck, the manufacturers of the propane tanks, or other parties may have been negligent in failing to take steps that would have protected the safety of those who were injured by the explosion. If the investigation finds evidence showing that the owners failed to properly maintain the tanks, for instance, the owners may have to pay for damages. If it was the propane tank itself that was faulty, the manufacturer may be found to be the responsible party.

Victims of an incident like this can best be served by talking to a personal injury lawyer about any claims that they may have. Innocent bystanders can suffer for years after this sort of occurrence, and deserve to recover what damages they are entitled to.