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Firefighter burned in explosion at own home

Gwinnett County Police and Fire personnel responded to a fire and explosion in Lawrenceville Monday.


Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan
Tammy Cunningham, holds her cat as Cpt. Hayley Smith and firefighter Jordan Weldon of the Gwinnett County Fire Department assist with oxygen after responding to the scene where an explosion occurred in the basement at 1371 Sundale Drive in Lawrenceville Monday. Resident at the home, John Cunningham was burned in the incident while working on the air condition unit. Three of their eight cats died in the explosion.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Tammy Cunningham, holds her cat as Cpt. Hayley Smith and firefighter Jordan Weldon of the Gwinnett County Fire Department assist with oxygen after responding to the scene where an explosion occurred in the basement at 1371 Sundale Drive in Lawrenceville Monday. Resident at the home, John Cunningham was burned in the incident while working on the air condition unit. Three of their eight cats died in the explosion.

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Explosion occurs in a Lawrenceville residence

Gwinnett County Police and Fire personnel responded to a fire and explosion in Lawrenceville Monday.

Gwinnett County Police and Fire personnel responded to a fire and explosion in Lawrenceville Monday.

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The Gwinnett County Firefighters respond to the scene where an explosion occurred in the basement at 1371 Sundale Drive in Lawrenceville Monday. Resident at the home, John Cunningham was burned in the incident while working on the air condition unit. Three of their eight cats died in the explosion.

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Tammy Cunningham, reacts as she watches the Gwinnett County Police and Fire departments respond to the scene where an explosion occurred in her basement at 1371 Sundale Drive in Lawrenceville Monday. Resident at the home, John Cunningham, her husband was burned in the incident while working on the air condition unit. Three of their eight cats died in the explosion.

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A Gwinnett County firefighter rescues a cat after an explosion occurred in the basement at 1371 Sundale Drive in Lawrenceville Monday. Three of their eight cats died in the explosion.

LAWRENCEVILLE — Tammy Cunningham got the call at work.

“You need to come home,” her husband John, a captain with the city of Milton fire department, said. “The house exploded and I got caught in the fire.”

John Cunningham was working on the basement air conditioning unit at his family’s Lawrenceville home Monday afternoon when a natural gas explosion boomed across Sundale Drive. Bricks were blasted off the front of the Cunningham home, windows blown out.

A firefighter with Fulton County for about three decades before joining Milton’s squad, John Cunningham was indeed caught in the subsequent blaze — despite burns on his hands, forearms and torso, he was able to exit the house, call his wife and begin attempting to rescue the family’s eight cats.

He was rushed to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta and was in surgery Monday afternoon.

“We won’t know anything until they get him out of surgery,” his wife said.

Gwinnett County firefighters and police responded to the home at about 1:10 p.m. after a neighbor called and reported a fire and “a few subsequent explosions,” police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith said. Fire crews found Cunningham outside upon arrival and got him to the hospital.

Two dogs and five cats inside the home were rescued. Three cats did not survive.

The extent of Cunningham’s injuries were not yet known but not thought to be life-threatening. Fire department spokesman Lt. Colin Rhoden said Cunningham’s experience as a firefighter likely helped him with “knowing what the extent of injuries were and what he could do to get out.”

“I’m pretty sure he knows all about fire behavior in order to get that far in the fire service,” he said.

Cunningham’s youngest son, Tanner, agreed.

“It probably would’ve been a lot worse,” he said.

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Location of home

Location of home