Fire Retardant Chemical Explodes

Wednesday, December 23, 2015 @ 10:12 AM gHale

A fire retardant chemical used to suppress flames exploded Friday at a southwest Fresno, CA, chemical manufacturing plant resulting in firefighters battling a three-alarm fire.

General Coatings Manufacturing Corp. suffered the blast at 10 p.m. Friday, said Fresno fire Battalion Chief Todd Tuggle.

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The company’s website says it sells foam insulation and other coating products. The chemical that caught fire was actually a fire retardant designed to suppress flames.

The chemical generally stays warm via a machine, but fire investigators believe the system malfunctioned, causing several barrels to overheat and catch fire.

As soon as firefighters began to hose down the flames, the explosion occurred.

“There was a fireball that erupted at them. They described it as a concussion grenade,” Tuggle said. “The sound was enormous. There was an extremely loud explosion that happened in front of them.”

Firefighters rotated in and out to minimize exposure to the chemical. Many ended up hosed down and their clothing set aside because of possible contaminants. The firefighters who had been exposed had to be stripped down and washed off outside as the temperature plummeted to 39 degrees.

Four fire crews ended up inspected for contamination, Tuggle said.

“It was a very dangerous moment for a brief period of time while our teams regrouped and we brought in additional resources,” Tuggle said.

About 12 engines, three trucks, two battalion chiefs, the full Type 1 hazmat team and EMS were on the scene.

Afterward, firefighters dug up dirt nearby and used it to create a barrier to prevent the now-toxic water from running out of the building and into storm drains, where it could spread contamination.

There were no injuries in the incident.

There was no immediate word about the cause of the fire or estimated damage.