Shorty after the conclusion of the annual Fire Prevention Week parade on October 2, 1954, an explosion and fire occured at the Esso Standard Oil Company barge terminal. As thousands of citizens crowded downtown to watch Memphis firemen participate in the parade, employees of Esso Standard Oil Company were off-loading several thousand gallons of gasoline from ten river barges docked at their facility on Wisconsin Avenue. Some of the gasoline fumes ignited, causing a massive explosion that killed one worker and injured several others. The resulting fire ruptured a water main that supplied the dock area and made accessibility from the shore side of the fire nearly impossible. A makeshift fireboat was devised by placing two pumpers and a high-pressure truck on a barge that was pushed close to the area of the fire. However, multiple explosions kept fire fighters at too great a distance to be completely effective. The fire burned for three days, reaching three alarms as off-duty firemen were called in to assist. Several fire fighters were injured, including two off-duty members in a car that collided with an ambulance transporting an injured fireman to the hospital.

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