TOWN OF TONAWANDA — A industrial fire in the Town of Tonawanda sent dozens of firefighters to the scene of FMC Industrial Chemicals early Sunday morning.
The blaze, which began at 1:40 a.m. at the Sawyer Road facility and took nearly three hours to contain, required the use of a hazardous materials team and injured one Kenmore volunteer fireman, who received medical attention for second-degree burns to his wrist, though he was released from the Erie County Medical Center after an examination.
Fires of this nature are not uncommon said second assistant chief for the River Road Volunteer Fire Company, Don Abbott, whose outfit is located near FMC on Kaufman Avenue in the heart of a heavily industrialized area.
“We were advised that the chemicals inside were dangerous,” Abbott said. “You could not go in without air on.”
Erin Heaney, executive director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, said that’s what’s worrying. She cited a rash of fires in the town’s industrial corridor during the last several years that she said should be of concern to residents living nearby.
Heaney said FMC uses ammonia for products geared toward swimming pools and other industrial applications, among other chemicals, many of which are stored on the property in bulk.
And while data was not immediately available as to how the fire may have affected the air quality of residents in the vicinity, Heaney said the situation could have been exceedingly more severe, should the blaze have spiraled further out of control with the capacity for dangerous, chemical-laden smoke spreading into a seven-mile radius, throughout the Tonawandas and into Buffalo and Amherst.
“I think it is part of a disturbing trend,” Heaney said. “We have a very serious accident that killed a worker at Dupont in 2010. There’s a small fire at 3M earlier this year and now this. The story here is less that this was a relatively small fire. It’s what we avoided, not just for Tonawanda but for Western New York in general.”
Heaney called for the government to institute a more stringent oversight process to limit the danger to residents.
“Erie County and the local fire departments need to be focusing more on inspecting the facilities,” she said. “We still have a lot of industry in Western New York and it seems to me that something is missing in the prevention piece.”
River Road Fire Chief Dale McNett said firefighters were required to go through a decontamination process once they exited the building, which included being sprayed and scrubbed down.
The fire began from an overheating piece of machinery that extended up through the building’s third floor, which necessitated a “large volume of water” that was poured into it to avoid a larger disaster as thick smoke billowed out, according to McNett. He also confirmed that ammonia was the chemical being utilized.
McNett said the quick reaction time of fire companies from the Tonawandas, Grand Island and Clarence helped avert a larger disaster.
Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.