It was July 29,1997 and former Chief Bill Rieg and I were sitting in the day room that Tuesday afternoon. It was approximately 3:30 PM. Over the monitor, the Sheriff's Department (then called 40 Control) said there was an explosion at the Bum Steer Restaurant. The Bum Steer was a popular steak house and bar on RT 121 that was close to the Connecticut border. At first I did not believe my ears. We, just a month ago, had tragically lost Michael Neuner in a Line Of Duty Death. We were all still trying to cope with the loss. By the time they said it the third time, "Explosion at the Bum Steer Restaurant", I came out of my shock and stupor. I realized there really was not an electrical transformer explosion but rather a significant EXPLOSION. Bill Rieg, drove the engine, Kenny Clair, Pat Pascarelli, and I made up the crew that responded initially. Then Brewster Fire Department (BFD) firefighter and future, successful lawyer Michael Liquori was driving his car westbound on Rt. 6 (Rt. 202) at the intersection of Rt. 121 at the time of the explosion. His car was pushed from the right lane onto the shoulder by the force of the explosion. He responded to the firehouse, went on a responding piece of apparatus. He missed the Yankee game he was going to.
When we arrived, there was no doubt there had been an explosion.Troopers were pulling away wooden beams, roofing shingles, and sheets of plaster looking for survivors. The bar and restaurant were leveled. The attached motel, the Fox Ridge Motel, had been picked up off its foundation. Windows and and doors had blown out. Mirrors were sent flying. Kenny Clair and Pat Pascarelli crawled through the debris looking for survivors. Eventually, cranes would have to be brought in to remove debris. A little while later, ex-Chief Ed Schneider and Ex-Chief Tommy Hughes proceeded to kick open the hotel room doors as management was nowhere to be found. They announced that there had been an explosion and an evacuation was in progress. Fortunately, only eight rooms in the Motel were occupied at the time of the explosion and nobody in the rooms were injured.
There was one man, Seguendo Moracho, a kitchen worker, with severe burns in a pile of debris. He was helped into an ambulance and taken to Danbury Hospital. He had multiple injuries and burns. After several hours of surgery, he was listed in stable condition. A dead woman's arm of poked through the debris. She was Veronika Ferrusi, 25, of Carmel, NY. She had just recently started working three days ago as a waitress. The restaurant's manager, Robert Sterman, 41, of Putnam Lake died as well. Three others, who were injured, were treated at Putnam Hospital and then released. The explosion occurred just before the restaurant's usually started getting busy at 4 P.M.
The big question was what was the cause of the explosion? The restaurant was a single story building built over an empty, old swimming pool which served as a basement. It seemed obvious that it was a gas explosion. One theory was that methane gas had accumulated as a byproduct of the cesspool. However, the previous problems with the cesspool had been corrected. Another theory was that there was a leaking propane tank. The tanks were used for cooking in the restaurant but the propane tanks were not damaged by the blast.
It was alleged that at the end of each night the pilot lights on the stoves were snuffed out allowing propane to accumulate. A state police report published in the November 1,1997 of the Herald Statesman blamed a a faulty underground pipe that had leaked the propane gas. Propane is heavier than air and sinks. There was a metal grate in a portion of the kitchen. The metal plate covered a portion of the old, empty swimming pool. This allowed a path for the propane to sink into the pool and probably led to an accumulation of propane in the below ground empty swimming pool. That was the fuel, what could the ignition be?
One part of answer would later be supplied by Phil McMurray Sr. who was a Lieutenant on the Ladder truck. He also was on the Putnam County Fire Investigation Team. Next to the deceased woman there was a vacuum which Phil had a trooper and Bill Rieg retrieve. The kitchen worker, Sequendo Moracho related to Phil McMurray Sr. the following sequence of events as Sequendo was being placed in the ambulance. Sequendo stated to a translator that when he turned on the vacuum it exploded. It was not a big bang, but rather started like an erupting, rolling volcano that rose to a crescendo and ended with a clap of thunder. On inspection, there was a flame path inside the vacuum. When the vacuum had been turned on a spark had occurred and it ignited the propane.
Phil lauded all the agencies which cooperated with the investigation. The NY State Troopers, the Sheriff's Department, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Occupational Safety Health Agency (OSHA) of New York State, Federal OSHA were some of the many agencies that responded.
Multiple Interviews with Phil McMurray Sr. in spring of 2022
Interview with Chief Thomas Palmer
Newspaper Articles compiled by deceased Ex-Chief and Historian Ed Schneider:
NY Times Metro Wed July 30,1997 (section B2)
Herald Statesman, November 1,1987