Wisconsin: Hazmat Fire Destroys 7 Structures At Washington Township Waste-Handling Site

Jay K. Bradish opens a series of case studies of hazardous materials incidents by describing the response to a fire that destroyed seven buildings, 18 storage tanks and seven trailers.


Hazardous Materials Case Studies: Mitigating Dangerous Incidents Fire departments respond to a wide variety of emergencies involving hazardous materials. In these case studies Firehouse® examines the challenges faced by firefighters and their commanders when they were called to hazmat...


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At 6:28 A.M., company officials reported that all employees were accounted for. At 6:29, an explosion occurred in the warehouse building and by 6:44, part of the building had collapsed. Township Assistant Chief Okie Allen requested additional mutual aid at 6:46. The Strum Fire Department responded with a tender; the Osseo Fire Department with a tender and the Fall Creek Fire Department with two tenders. Christy established a unified command system with Battalion Chief Duane Gunst of the Eau Claire Fire Department and Battalion Chief Kim Nessel of Eau Claire's Level B Hazardous Materials Team.

At 7:01 A.M., Division 3 Operations Officer Kerry Parker of Township Station 1 reported that several tanks had exploded. At 7:05, firefighters and equipment were ordered to evacuate the area. Staging was moved a quarter-mile south of the property, upwind, on State Highway 93. The Eau Claire County Command Trailer was located there along with firefighter rehab. All firefighter vitals were monitored by Gold Cross Ambulance personnel upon their exiting of the "hot zone." Highway 93 had been closed by Eau Claire County Sheriffs Department, Wisconsin State Patrol and Eau Claire Police Department. At 7:50, all businesses in the immediate area were told to evacuate and command made the decision to let the fire burn. The Eau Claire hazmat team established four air-monitoring sites throughout the city and a voluntary evacuation was announced by the media to all residents within a half-mile radius of the scene. At 7:56, Allen assumed command of the incident as Christy was sent to rehab.

At 10:50 A.M., command requested two crash-fire-rescue vehicles from Eau Claire County Airport to the scene. CFR 1 and 2 responded with a total capacity of 325 gallons of Class B foam. Additional mutual aid was requested to support a plan for extinguishment that had been developed by incident commanders. It was determined that several more tenders would be needed to ensure a constant water supply. The Anson, Bloomer, Boyd, Colfax, Cornell, Eagle Point, Elk Mound, Menomonia, New Auburn, Rock Creek, Stanley and Tiden fire departments each responded with a tender. The Eau Claire Fire Department sent two more engines.

Tender fill sites were established at five hydrants located up to one mile from the fire scene. These hydrants were within Eau Claire city limits and manned by Eau Claire firefighters. A fill site was also established at the Hickory Hills Golf Course pond located four miles from the scene. The Chippewa Fire District's 2,000-gpm portable pump was used to draft from the pond to fill tenders.

At 11 A.M., several officers re-entered the fire scene and decided to resume suppression operations. At 11:45, suppression operations began using Chippewa Fire District Engine 5 and Ladder 1 and Eau Claire Engine 6. These units were supplied by Township Engines 21, 41 and 51. Each Township Engine drafted out of two 2,000-gallon portable tanks supplied by the water tender shuttle. It was estimated that the engines pumped a total of 4,300 gpm for three hours during the water shuttle. The two airport units applied foam from their turrets in the loading dock area.

Township Chief of Rescue Joseph Alf declared the fire under control at 3:46 P.M. and mutual aid units began being released. The Township Fire Department left the scene at 8 P.M. on June 23 after monitoring the scene for hot spots and rekindles. Damage to the property was estimated at $1 million to buildings and equipment and $4 million to the contents. Another $157,000 in damage was estimated to the trailers and contents. In all, 18 storage tanks were damaged in the fire. A variety of chemicals were stored in the tanks, including two tanks containing a total of 17,163 gallons of flushing xylene; 3,025 gallons of chlorinated fuels/chlorinated still residue; two tanks containing a total of 11,580 gallons of lacquer thinner; three tanks containing a total of 22,663 gallons of waste ink and solvent; 5,445 gallons of glycol ether PMA blend; 1,210 gallons of acetone; 5,170 gallons of tanker rinse; 50 gallons of fuel blend/still residue; and 1,375 gallons of tanker wash-halogenated. Twenty-one fire departments were involved in fire suppression operations. No harmful effects to the public were detected by the air monitors from the smoke plume. Runoff water did not affect private water wells in the area.