The 1978 fire at Eastern Rubber Reclaiming, Inc. on Front and Flower Streets in Chester, aka The Wade Dump Site, is the feature event highlighted in a recent post by a website dedicated to firefighter training and tactics.
By 1988, 21 cancers were diagnosed among responders who worked the fire or the cleanup after. Eleven died. Between 1988 and 2000, 18 additional cancers had appeared, killing nine more of the responders. Cancer rates among the group at the fire are five to six times the norm, with cancers such as melanoma occurring in odd places on the firefighters’ bodies.
The Wade Dump Fire was a catalyst for Superfund legislation. For the responders, the legislation was too little, too late. Finger-pointing over who knew what when and acrimony over political promises that went unfulfilled after the fire rang hollow and overshadowed the suffering among the first responders. The fire serves as a grim reminder that the risks associated with firefighting are far more insidious than the acute effects of visible smoke, heat and flames.
Melvin Wade (feature photo) will always be associated as the fall guy for the tragedy on Front and Flower, but as time passes, the historic view is slowly pointing more than one finger of blame.
Local, state and federal officials were aware of the dump, but failed to tell the Chester Fire Department.
Read ‘Fires You Should Know About’ for more details on the significance of studying the Wade fire.
To learn what was going on in Melvin Wade’s head, visit ‘The Toxic Man’ site.