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

Dec. 1, 2007
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 incidents, how those challenges were overcome and what lessons were learned. The case studies were compiled and written by Firehouse® News Editor Jay K. Bradish.

A raging hazardous materials fire destroyed the Waste Research and Reclamation Environmental Services Company Inc. plant in Washington Township, WI, on June 22, 2007. WRR is reclamation and recycling business for hazardous liquid wastes, fuel blending, and provides transportation of hazardous waste for incineration or disposal. Seven buildings, 18 storage tanks, three tanker trailers and four box trailers were destroyed. Firefighters were able to save the old processing plant, office building and laboratories, maintenance shop and three warehouse buildings from the fire thanks to yearly pre-planning of the facility.

The Township Fire Department was dispatched to the fire at 5:44 A.M. Engine 21, 22, 31, 41 and 51, Tenders 16, 26, 46 and 56, and Rescues 15, 25 and 45 responded with 40 firefighters. At the time of the fire, Fire Chief Jack Running was out of town attending the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Convention. Chief of Operations Darrell Christy requested mutual aid from the Eau Claire Fire Department at 5:48, per pre-plan guidelines established for the facility. Engine 6 and a crew of three responded. Christy, first to arrive at 5:50, was met at the front gate by employees who said the fire was in the chiller room. They also said that three employees had gone into the area in an attempt to extinguish the fire. Christy asked Gold Cross Ambulance Service to respond because employees were unaccounted for. He also reported light smoke showing from the processing area.

Christy entered the property with his vehicle and proceeded along the perimeter fence on the east side of the scene trying to locate the best access for apparatus and fire attack. When he arrived at the southeast corner, he found the three employees who tried to extinguish the fire without success. At 5:53, mutual aid was requested from the Altoona and Eleva fire departments and the Chippewa Fire Protection District. A minute later, Christy reported that this incident was a working structure fire and requested his department be re-toned for additional manpower. Altoona responded with two engines and a tender; Eleva with a tender and Chippewa with an engine, an aerial and three tenders. Altoona Engine 1 was positioned on the west side of the fire and hand-laid a 200-foot supply line to a portable monitor and placed it into operation in the area of the fire's origin. Tankers supplied a 2,000-gallon portable tank that this engine drafted from. Chippewa equipment was ordered to the staging area established at Northwest Enterprises, 600 feet from the fire scene.

Township Engines 21 and 41 arrived at 5:56. Engine 21, with a five-person crew, proceeded to the north gate as Engine 41 and two firefighters entered the east gate. Engine 21 laid 400 feet of supply line from the north gate to the area of the fire origin and wyed off with an attack line with a blitz gun positioned to apply water to cool flammable liquid tanks and another attack line with a variable nozzle that two firefighters advanced toward the chiller room. Engine 21 was set up to draft out of a 2,000-gallon portable tank to supply the attack lines. Engine 41 drafted out of a 2,000-gallon portable tank and pumped to Eau Claire Engine 6, which put its aerial master stream into operation. A water shuttle was established to supply Engines 21 and 41 for defensive operations. Altoona Engine 1 was positioned on the west side of the fire and supplied a portable monitor in operation in the area of the fire's origin. A staging area was established at Northwest Enterprises 600 feet from the fire scene.

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.

Support agencies that assisted at the scene were the American Red Cross; Eau Claire City/County Health Department; Eau Claire City Public Works Department; Eau Claire County Emergency Management; Eau Claire County Highway Department; Department of Homeland Security; Occupational Safety and Health Agency; Salvation Army, Washington Township government officials; Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigation-Fire Investigators; Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs-Emergency Services Coordinator; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; Wisconsin DOT/State Patrol and Wisconsin Emergency Management.

The company plans to rebuild the business at the present location. Plans call for fire suppression systems and a fire-resistive structure.

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