Safety Plan Works in Chem Plant Blaze

Tuesday, July 23, 2013 @ 06:07 PM gHale


A chemical company’s safety plan came into play as its internal fire brigade helped staunch thick, black smoke Sunday morning as flames tore through the Lonza Inc. plant in Williamsport, PA.

The blaze began on the northeast corner of the facility in Building 13, which is a non-hazardous manufacturing area, said Lonza officials. As such, the fire posed no risk to the nearby community, the officials said.

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The city plant offers chemical products for a wide range of applications, including water treatment, food additives, personal care products and household and industrial cleaners, according to the company’s website.

Though there was a shift of employees working at the time, everyone made it out safely, and no one suffered injury in the blaze.

“Chemical manufacturing facilities are one of the worst places to have a fire. We were very fortunate today,” said Eric Smith, platoon chief with the city’s bureau of fire.

The flames took about five hours for firefighters to putout that is because in part the company’s safety plan came into play as its own fire brigade jumped into quick action and helped the city squad.

“Their fire brigade initiated the attack and worked with us through the incident,” Smith said.

The thick black smoke was from flames burning through the building’s roofing materials, officials said.

“The fire was not involved with any hazardous chemicals. The fire posed no threat to the community at large,” said Marvin Kuzo, Lonza plant manager.

While Lonza’s internal deluge system warned workers to evacuate, plant officials did not turn on their community warning sirens.

“If there had been a threat to the community, we have a separate siren that would have sounded. We decided not to activate those sirens at that time,” Kuzo said.

A shelter-in-place request did go out to the local newspaper just in case those living nearby need to evacuate, but fire officials ended up canceling that notice a half hour later.

Platoon Chief Vince Rundio explained the release went out in preparation, in case he needed to order a shelter-in-place alert. The second release canceled the first.

“The shelter-in-place order was released to the media before it was released to the general public. Someone was listening on the scanner and put that information on Facebook, but the order was never actually activated. All that information was sent out in preparation in case I needed it, rather than waiting until the last minute,” Rundio said.

He explained that in between the first and second news releases, officials determined that the fire posed no threat to the general public and the city did not activate its outdoor warning sirens to alert those in the neighborhood.

Investigators still are determining the cause of the blaze and the amount of property damaged.



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