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A major warehouse structure fire in Albion, N.Y., posed a threat to local residents as flames drew near a facility that housed toxic chemicals.
The warehouse, owned by Orleans Pallet Company, was filled with wood pallets. Two men were grinding metal pipes on the second floor when sparks initiated the fire around 4 p.m, WGRZ reported. Crews from multiple departments responded, including Niagra, Monroe, Genesee and Orleans County. Fueled by wood objects housed in the building, the fire grew rapidly.
"This is a 10 out of 10," Jeremy Graham, the assistant chief of the Albion Fire Department, told The Daily News. "This is the biggest fire I've seen here in my 13 years."
As the crews handled fire suppression with streams of water, a new hazard was looming. Empire Coating, a finishing and coating business, stands next door to the warehouse, separated only by a narrow alley. Officials were concerned that flames could spread or warehouse walls could collapse, damaging Empire's building and releasing toxic chemicals into the air. The facility stored methyl chloride on site.
A shelter in place order was initiated at 5:30 p.m. Residents were told to stay in their homes and keep windows and doors firmly closed. Some, however, managed to watch the drama unfold.
"The flames were about two stories high, with pitch black smoke," said Jeana Smith who watched from her home. "You could feel the heat from the road."
A toxic chemical
Methylene chloride is a colorless liquid with a "chloroform-like odor", according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. It is used for a wide array of manufacturing applications, including pharmaceuticals, paint remover, adhesives and film base. It is also used for industrial metal cleaning, paint stripping and for the production of some foams and resins.
The chemical is toxic when inhaled or exposed to the skin. Immediate symptoms include lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting and headache, while longer exposure can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation as well as chemical burns to the skin.
Due to the threat methylene chloride poses to employees, OSHA imposes guidelines on it's handling in the workplace. For one, OSHA sets permissible exposure levels for an eight-hour workday: 25 parts per million. Employers can use a toxic gas detector to determine if levels are safe for employees. Furthermore, a short term exposure limit of 125 ppm is set for a maximum of 15 minutes.
As firefighters fought to prevent the blaze in Albion from spreading, crews managed to remove the hazardous chemicals from the neighboring building, alleviating the hazard for nearby residents. Officials said the fact that the building was made of sandstone helped keep the fire contained.
Crews stayed overnight and continued to put out hotspots Friday morning. Though the structure remained, the building had been completely gutted, officials say. No injuries were reported. The building's occupants were able to evacuate quickly.
Industrial Safety News brought to you by Safety Systems Technology, Inc., leaders in fire and gas detection.