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Fire at sealant factory highlights dangers of flammable fumes

Posted on by SST

A fire suppression system helped contain a blaze at a factory that manufactures sealants and adhesives, showcasing both the effectiveness of a fire alarm system as well as the dangers of sealants.

According to South Bend CBS news affiliate WSBT, a fire broke out at the Royal Adhesives & Sealants factory located off West Washington Street in South Bend, Ind. Federico Rodriguez, South Bend fire marshal, said the fire began as employees were cleaning a machine on the second floor. It took an estimated 15 minutes for Rodriguez and his team to extinguish the fire. Fortunately, the fire alarm system was triggered by the fire.

"It ignited, causing the sprinkler heads to go off," Rodriguez said. "The sprinkler heads contained the fire until we arrived and extinguished it."

Even though the fire was put out relatively easily, due in part to the effectiveness of the fire alarm control system, the incident did not unfold without injuries. No firefighters were injured, however, two employees of the Royal Adhesives & Sealants facility were transported to nearby Memorial Hospital where they received treatment for smoke inhalation and minor burns. Despite the two injured employees who were under observation at the hospital, Royal Adhesives took a roll call and reported all employees accounted for. 

A flammable industry
Due the the nature of the products manufactured at the plant, firefighters took all the necessary precautions. Sealants can be very flammable themselves, but the fumes from adhesives are heavy and also flammable, as reported by WSBT.

"We have our positive pressure tanks on, and the incident commander took into consideration the wind direction to make sure that those who did not have it didn't have to worry about it," Rodriguez said. "Anybody who was near the site of the incident was properly clothed."

According to Royal Adhesives website, while they do manufacture water-based, non-flammable sealants, the majority of their products are extremely flammable.

"Royal Adhesives & Sealants is a manufacturer and marketer of high performance adhesives, sealants, encapsulants and specialty polymers," the website stated. "These high performance products are used in a variety of markets including aerospace and defense, automotive, recreational vehicle, bus, truck and trailer, marine, assembly, electrical/electronic, filter, printing, packaging and laminating, roofing and flooring. We offer a broad spectrum of thermosetting epoxy, urethane, and methyl methacrylate structural adhesives, cyanoacrylate and anerobic adhesives, energy cured acrylate adhesives and coatings and rubber and acrylic based adhesives, sealants and polymers to meet the most demanding adhesive, sealant and coating applications."

Fox affiliate WSJV reported the total damage caused by the fire is estimated at $5,000. Investigators on the scene said the blaze mostly started after flammable vapors were ignited by static electricity while crews were transferring liquids. It was not clear if the Royal Adhesives facility employed a system to determine if fumes in the air exceeded dangerous levels by using a toxic gas detector.

Sealants are dangerous
NY1 News recently reported an explosion in Brooklyn caused by flammable sealant fumes killed one person and sent two more to the hospital.

Construction workers were using a sealant not meant to be used indoors to waterproof a basement. Heavy fumes accumulated in the building due to poor ventilation. When a power tool was used, the electrical activity inside the tool ignited the fumes, causing an explosion that blew out a wall. 

"[There was a] boom – one big, loud explosion," said neighbor Michael Williams. "When I looked I saw the whole side of the house, like, shift."

Two men sustained serious injuries – with burns on over 85 percent of their body – while Antonio Tapia, 27, died on the scene as a result of his injuries.

Industrial Safety News brought to you by Safety Systems Technology, Inc., leaders in fire and gas detection systems.

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