‘Turbine House’ Fire at CT Plant

Tuesday, February 18, 2014 @ 07:02 PM gHale

Firefighters needed about 90 minutes to control a fire in a turbine Wednesday morning at the Kleen Energy power plant in Middletown, CT, the site of a fatal gas explosion about four years ago.

The fire started in a structure housing “turbine 1” at the plant at 1439 River Road, Middletown Fire Marshal Al Santostefano said. No one suffered an injury.

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South District Chief Robert J. Ross said firefighters got the call at 7:06 a.m. and the first arriving crews found an oil fire on the floor of what he described as the “turbine house.” The fire spread to the housing and insulation.

Firefighters called for a second alarm at 7:24 a.m. for additional firefighters and foam to smother the fire. New Haven firefighters responded with foam.

The turbines get their power from natural gas or fuel oil, Santostefano said. The fire was under control at 8:15 a.m. and was substantially out by 9 a.m.

The fire ended up fueled by oil used to cool the turbine. The cooling oil leaked and ended up ignited by the heat in the area, Santostefano said.

“Natural gas that feeds the turbine had nothing to do with the fire,” Santostefano said. “Coolant leaked out, got hot and ignited.” As much as 1,000 gallons of oil leaked, officials said.

Firefighters removed insulation in the turbine housing and were on the scene for several more hours Wednesday, Ross said. The fire stayed within the approximately 50-foot by 75-foot turbine room, he said. Damage was just in the area immediately around the turbine.

The power plant remained operational with the second turbine still generating power, he said.

Workers discovered the about 7 a.m. when an employee checking an alarm found the fire and called 911, Ross said. The public was never at risk, Ross added.

Middletown Mayor Daniel Drew said a malfunction in a cooling oil pump may be the cause of the fire.

An explosion at the Kleen Energy site killed six workers on Feb. 7, 2010, while workers were using pressurized natural gas to blow debris out of pipes in preparation for making the nearly completed plant operational. The highly flammable gas ignited, creating a horrific explosion that could be heard 40 miles away.

The turbines at the Kleen Energy plant survived the massive explosion because they are up encased in concrete to protect them. The turbines that were on site the day of the explosion are still in use at the plant.

While the concrete means the turbines have protection, it also makes it difficult for firefighters to access a fire in the turbine.

After the 2010 explosion, federal investigators found hundreds of violations at the site and issued $16.6 million in penalties against more than a dozen companies — the third-largest workplace-safety fine in the nation’s history.

“The millions of dollars in fines levied pale in comparison to the value of the six lives lost and numerous other lives disrupted,” U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said at the time. “However, the fines and penalties reflect the gravity and severity of the deadly conditions created by the companies managing the work at the site.”

But in the years since the blast, the federal government agreed to deals that will wipe out as much as 88 percent of the fines levied against the companies that it determined bore responsibility for the explosion.

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