Efforts underway to help New York man burned after Manchester propane leak

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MANCHESTER >> An online fundraising campaign aims to help cover medical expenses for a Cambridge, N.Y., man who was badly burned last week during a large propane leak.

John Matala was the truck driver who, upon encountering a cloud of propane, risked his life to turn off a valve that had inadvertently been left open by a previous driver, according to his brother-in-law Shane Napoli.

Matala, 42, suffered burns on nearly 30 percent of his body from the incident last Thursday and is currently hospitalized in a Burlington hospital's burn unit, according to Napoli.

Napoli said that Matala will not receive sick pay while he is hospitalized because he is an independent contractor.

He established a GoFundMe fundraising campaign web page this week to collect donations for Matala's medical expenses: www.gofundme.com/b8r25g As of Wednesday evening, 24 donors had raised $1,380.

"They're not sure how long he'll be in the hospital," Napoli said. "He just underwent skin grafts for his left arm on Tuesday. Since then he's been under heavy sedation."

A truck driver — whose name was not available earlier this week but has since been confirmed to be Matala — was credited by Manchester Fire Department Chief Philip "Grub" Bourn for saving the day. All it would have taken, Bourn said on Sunday, was a loose spark plug wire or a cigarette to have ignited the cloud, which resembled a low-lying fog.

Napoli described Matala, who is married to his sister Nicole, as "a top-notch guy."

"He knew that if he didn't do something, there could be a major catastrophe," Napoli told the Banner on Wednesday.

He said Matala sent many thanks to local first responders for their work at the scene.

Matala is reportedly in "good spirits" and also told family members that, "as crazy as it was, I'd do it all over again."

Just after 8 a.m. on Nov. 12, Matala, a truck owner-operator who delivers propane, arrived at the propane depot on Taconic Business Park Road to find a thick plume surrounding the area. He was badly burned by the gas when he blindly felt his way to turn off a valve that had accidently been left open, according to the Manchester Fire Department.

Matala suffered second and third degree burns on nearly 30 percent of his body — on the side of his face, his neck, both arms, both legs and the side of his stomach. His left arm was burnt the worst, Napoli said.

Napoli said his sister has been travelling back and forth between Cambridge, N.Y., and Burlington to visit Matala, to whom she's been married for 16 years. Together, they have two children, John, 5, and Abel, 3, and are expecting a third.

"He's a stand-up guy," Napoli said. "He would do anything for anybody. He's kind and a hard worker."

Napoli said checks can also be mailed to his home and he will make sure every cent gets to his sister and brother-in-law. Checks can be made out to Matala and sent to: Shane Napoli c/o John Matala, 1366 Johnsonville Road, Johnsonville, N.Y. 12094.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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