A call that began as a seemingly routine mid-winter medical response for an exposure to carbon monoxide turned into a long and labor intensive night of operations for many of Dane County’s Fire Departments and the region’s hazardous materials incident response teams.
At 2:08 PM on Friday, February 13, 2015, Fitchrona paramedics and Fitchburg firefighters were first dispatched to the Ecostar Recycling Facility located at 6124 McKee Road. A 911 call received at the Dane County Communications Center sought medical assistance for an ill employee at that location. When emergency responders arrived at the scene, they found a male employee exhibiting signs and symptoms consistent with overexposure to carbon monoxide. The employee was transported by the paramedics to a local hospital for further evaluation and treatment.
Using a handheld gas monitor, Fitchburg firefighters initially entered the manufacturing facility to evaluate the conditions inside; however, the fire crew withdrew when their portable gas monitor detected a potentially hazardous atmosphere in the area they were entering.
The engine company’s officer consulted with personnel on the Madison Fire Department’s Hazardous Incident Team (HIT) prior to making an attempt to reenter and the HIT team responded with its larger suite of monitoring equipment to further assist with the investigation. Later, the 54th Civil Support Team (CST) of the Wisconsin National Guard also responded to assist with air monitoring activities and the identification of any chemicals, materials or manufacturing processes that were thought to be creating the potentially hazardous conditions.
A storage silo located inside the building containing granules of recycled plastic was eventually determined to be the source of the toxic gas.
Once the source and identity of the emitted gas was verified, an appropriate level of protective clothing and respiratory protection was selected and firefighters were then able to begin the time consuming and laborious task of removing an estimated 7,000 pounds of plastic granules from the storage silo. It took four work cycles to complete the unloading process, with each work cycle lasting approximately three hours.
During each work cycle, five teams of firefighters would each take a turn at unloading the silo for no more than twenty minutes and then rotate out of the hazard zone for rest and rehydration. Each work team was assigned one firefighter trained as a hazardous materials technician who would supervise the unloading activities and monitor air quality and material temperature during the work cycle. The remaining firefighters assigned to a work team used pneumatic chisels and other hand tools to move the plastic from the storage silo and place it in another container for disposal. Once a work cycle was completed the firefighters in that cycle were released from the scene and returned to their home jurisdictions.
Over 120 firefighters were required to complete the unloading operations that began at about 7:00 PM on Friday evening and concluded shortly after 9:00 AM on Saturday morning.
Firefighters from the following communities assisted the Fitchburg Fire Department during this event:
City of Madison
Town of Madison
The Salvation Army provided canteen services to firefighters throughout the event.
Control of the property was returned to Ecostar representatives when incident command was terminated and the last firefighters left the scene at 10:05 AM.
Facility officials are still working to determine the specific cause for the chemical reaction.
Initially, damage appears to be limited to the storage bin and the plastic pellets contained within. No estimate as to the value of the loss is available at this time.
For further information contact:
Deputy Chief Richard Roth