Deputies, firefighters might have been exposed to harmful chemicals – Garden City, Kansas. Garden City firefighters and Finney County sheriff’s deputies may have been exposed to toxic smoke while responding to a fire last month that burned down a manufacturing plant, city and county officials said this morning.
But what chemicals were stored at the building and the dangers posed by smoke and fumes released during the NACO Industries fire July 21 still are not known.
Finney County Sheriff Kevin Bascue said the Finney County Human Resources Department notified him of the possibility that deputies who responded to the fire might have been exposed to harmful chemicals. The cause of the fire that took 10 hours to extinguish has been ruled “undetermined” by the state Fire Marshal’s office. Further investigation was halted because the building was considered too dangerous for entry and could collapse.
Eleven firefighters and seven to eight deputies responded to the fire.
Bascue said all responding deputies to the fire have completed workers’ compensation paperwork just in case a deputy who was at the scene of the blaze develops health complications related to exposure to fumes.
Finney County Administrator Pete Olson said no county employees that responded to the fire have been tested for such exposure.
He said he was told that immediate testing would not reveal contamination and that exposure-related health problems may take some time to surface.
Olson said he is concerned about county employees’ health and that all employees who were at the scene have been accounted for in case an employee gets sick from exposure to the fire.
“We are concerned about any employee that may have been exposed to something that could be harmful to their health,” he said.
Bob Halloran, city manager for Garden City, said this morning he is not aware of any firefighter who has been tested for exposure to toxic smoke. He said if there was any immediate danger to city employees on the scene, the employees would have been tested.
Bascue said no equipment belonging to the sheriff’s office has shown any kinds of damage but a fire truck was discolored and the stainless steel on an ambulance was tarnished during the fire because of smoke.
Garden City Fire Chief Allen Shelton has said because NACO Industries manufactured PVC fittings for irrigation systems, the plastic PVC pipe produced a toxic smoke when it caught fire, which required all firefighters to use oxygen tanks and limited their time in the building to fight the blaze.
Shelton said Monday he doesn’t know if any firefighter or equipment was contaminated but something in the smoke did cause discoloration on one of the fire trucks.
J.R. Behan, a paramedic for Finney County EMS and Garden City commissioner, said some stainless steel on an ambulance had been tarnished because of fumes at the fire but said no one on the EMS team was close enough to the fire to be exposed to the smoke.
Shelton said he has received a list of chemicals involved in the fire from NACO Industries but has not had an opportunity to look up each chemical’s hazard level.
Dave Jones, director of Finney County Emergency Management Services, said neither emergency response vehicles nor the building were tested for contamination. He said it’s difficult to test smoke and air for contamination.
Jones also said protocol for a fire involving chemicals is to evacuate the building and surrounding area and let the fire burn but NACO didn’t have that plan in place because it doesn’t typically store chemicals.
“NACO isn’t a facility that routinely stores hazardous materials,” he said. “It would be like Wal-Mart catching on fire. There is all kinds of chemicals sold in that store but no one would know the reaction they would have to fire.”
Shelton said businesses that store hazardous materials are not required to inform the fire department of what those materials might be.
“It is just a courtesy to let us know what we are dealing with on scene,” he said.
Shelton said firefighters were not aware of what chemicals or hazardous materials might have been inside the NACO building.
Mike Hopkins, owner of NACO Industries, said he does not know at this time what chemicals were stored in the plant and would not comment on possible health-related issues caused by exposure to toxic smoke.
By RACHEL DAVIS
Garden City Telegram – August 2, 2006