In the community

Special ceremony honors first responders who battled liquid natural gas fire

ONTARIO – Joseph Pesola remembers the flames.

“They were horizonal. They were whipping around horizontally, almost in a circle,” he said.

In a flash, Pesola, 61, was incinerated by a wall of fire.

“I ran and ran. I was screaming ‘Help me,’” he said.

The fire erupted on Nov. 2, 2023 when Pesola, a liquid natural gas truck driver, was transferring fuel from a pair of natural gas tanks on a mobile trailer across the road from the Love’s Travel Stop.

He said he noticed something amiss as he transferred the fuel and moved to shut the fuel valve.

That’s when the liquid natural gas ignited.

In a flash Pesola suffered third- and second-degree burns across his body.

That overcast November day five months ago marked a turning point in Pesola’s life that was punctuated with heroic actions by first responders and two employees at Love’s Travel Stop.

Joseph Pesola, Meridian, talks with Ontario Fire & Rescue firefighter Jared Gammage at Four Rivers Cultural Center, Wednesday, April 2. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

On Wednesday, April 3, Pesola spoke before a crowd of more than 70 people during a ceremony sponsored by the Ontario Fire & Rescue Department to honor those who responded to the blaze that nearly killed Pesola.

“I have so much to be thankful for,” Pesola told the crowd.

That day, as Pesola ran from the flames, two Love’s shop employees – Dakota Jones and Obadiah Harriman – spotted the Meridian man.

“I’d just come to work. Someone came in and said there was a bus on fire,” said Jones.

Harriman said he ran out of the shop and saw Pesola emerge from what appeared to be a “fog.”

“He was on fire,” said Harriman.

Jones and Harriman ran toward Pesola.

More than 75 people attended a special awards ceremony at Four Rivers Cultural Center, Wednesday, April 3. The ceremony was designed to honor firefighters and other emergency services agencies that responded to a liquid natural gas fire near Love’s Travel Stop in Ontario Nov. 2. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

“I saw how much the flames were and stopped. Then I saw him and I was like, no I have to go get him,” said Jones.

Jones said Pesola was in bad shape.

“There were no clothes on him but part of his jacket,” said Jones.

Harriman said he shouted at Pesola to stop and roll into a nearby puddle of water.

“We could hear a cracking sound – the cracking of the (natural gas) tank,” said Harriman.

The two men reached Pesola.

“We got him to stand up,” said Jones.

About that time firefighters and medics arrived.

“I remember being laid in the grass and being confused but I knew I was surrounded by good people,” said Pesola.

Pesola said he didn’t feel a lot of pain at that moment.

“I really thought I would be home that night,” he said.

More than a dozen firefighters, including Ontario’s Mark Saito, received awards for their work during a liquid natural gas fire at a ceremony at Four Rivers Cultural Center, Wednesday, April 3. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

When he was placed into the ambulance, he said he remembers one of the EMTs asking if he was allergic to anything.

“I told them, yes, to fire,” he said.

He asked the medics if “I was going to be OK.”
“As soon as I had answered their questions they medicated me,” he said.

Pesola wouldn’t be fully awake again for another six weeks.

He was taken to a Boise hospital and then to the Intermountain Burn Center at Salt Lake City’s University of Utah Health Center.

Harriman said he didn’t believe Pesola would live.

“It was all in the Lord’s hands and he came out and did his magic,” said Harriman.

When he reached the burn center, Pesola said, he remembers a doctor leaning over and asking him, “Do you want to live? Because there is going to be a lot of surgeries and lot of pain.”

“I said, yes, I want to live,” said Pesola.

More than a dozen firefighters and local residents were honored with special awards during a ceremony at Four Rivers Cultural Center, Wednesday, April 3. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

In Utah, Pesola then endured skin grafts, operations and physical therapy as he struggled to recover.

Pesola said doctors said he would be in the burn unit for at least six months.

“I shouldn’t have lived but I was out in 92 days. I contribute that to prayer,” he said.

He now wears a compression suit as his skin heals.

“I’m good with what happened. I have too much to be thankful for,” he said.

Clint Benson, Ontario Fire and Rescue chief, speaks to the crowd at an awards ceremony, Wednesday, April 3 at Four Rivers Cultural Center. The ceremony honored firefighters and other first responders for their efforts during a liquid natural gas fire in November. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

Pesola said he was overwhelmed with gratitude at the Four Rivers Cultural Center ceremony.

“I was touched in every way. What a wonderful community. Everyone from the mayor to the police came and gave me hugs,” said Pesola.

Along with Harriman and Jones, more than dozen firefighters from Ontario and Fruitland were honored with awards for their actions during the fire.

The blaze challenged firefighters, said Fire Chief Clint Benson.

One of the natural gas tanks was ablaze when firefighters arrived and flames from it were burning into a second tank.

“During the investigation we learned that one tank, its outer shell, was already breached,” he said.

Liquid natural gas, he said, is “extremely explosive.”
The firefighters were able to douse the fire with the liberal use of water. The fire, he said, is still under investigation.

Benson said the response to the fire was a “team effort.”

LNG Tanker Fire honorees

Medal of Honor

Lt. Jared Gammage, Ontario Fire & Rescue

Firefighter Mark Saito, Ontario Fire & Rescue

Firefighter Kyle Ervin, Ontario Fire & Rescue

Medal of Valor

Firefighter Aren Campbell, Fruitland Fire Department

Firefighter Kipp Domby, Ontario Fire & Rescue

Firefighter Trevor Gammage, Ontario Fire & Rescue

Firefighter Luis Gutierrez, Ontario Fire & Rescue

Firefighter Eddie Mendoza, Ontario Fire & Rescue
Firefighter Jaime Mondragon, Ontario Fire & Rescue

Lt. Jonathan Rico, Ontario Fire & Rescue

Firefighter Manuel Rios, Fruitland Fire Department

Firefighter Nephi Tolman, Ontario Fire & Rescue

Firefighter Miguel Torres, Ontario Fire & Rescue

Firefighter Garrett Waddell, Ontario Fire & Rescue

Community Lifesaving Award

Obadiah Harriman, Love’s Travel Stop

Dakota Jones, Love’s Travel Stop

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

UPDATED: Fire at Ontario truck stop injures Meridian man

Meridian man transferred to Utah burn unit after vehicle fire at Ontario truck stop

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