Repairs to Metal Vessel Led to Heritage Thermal Blaze

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio – A contractor trying to repair a metal vessel led to a fire at Heritage Thermal Services Monday that kept firefighters busy into the early hours of Tuesday morning. 

City Fire Chief William Jones said Tuesday that, while the fire at the St. George Street facility created “so much potential for someone to get hurt,” there were no injuries nor any need to evacuate the area.

The primary danger, Jones said, was to the numerous firefighters who responded not only from the East Liverpool Fire Department but from outlying stations in Liverpool Township, Calcutta and Wellsville.

About 6:30 p.m., an outside contractor, not a Hermitage Thermal employee, was attempting to cut out a piece of the seven- to eight-story metal vessel to make repairs when the piece of metal fell into the vessel, rather than outside as expected, Jones said.

The entire vessel is lined with rubber and inside the lining are plastic filter agents. Jones explained that gases coming out of a kiln come through the vessel, where particles are cleaned out, allowing clean gases to be emitted. When the piece of pipe fell into the vessel, it ignited the lining, he said. 

While initial reports from the company Monday night indicated the fire had been extinguished within 45 minutes, Jones said, “It appeared the fire was out within 45 minutes, but you lose all track of time (in that situation).”

As firefighters were making their way up the metal staircase outside the vessel, putting out the fire as they went, the vessel was so hot, it was glowing orange, he continued.

When firefighters reached the top of the stairs, most of the fire was knocked down, Jones said, then it reignited below them.

While the firefighters made their way back down the stairs, fighting the blaze below them, the fire at the top again ignited.

“It was very taxing on all the firefighters involved. Once it got below my guys, that’s when we started calling for mutual aid for manpower. It was taking a toll on my guys,” Jones said. “They were able to get back ahead of it later, but not as quickly as they had hoped. It was a very difficult fire to fight.”

The fire chief cited climbing the seven or eight stories in the oppressive heat from the fire while wearing their heavy gear and carrying equipment.

Heritage Thermal Services has its own on-site fire brigade, and Jones said those employees were attempting to extinguish the fire when his department arrived on the scene.”

“They have the expertise of their plant, and we have the expertise of fighting a fire. They are the experts of their facility. We work well together,” Jones said of the HTS hazardous response team, although he admitted, “No one had fought that kind of a fire.”

Asked if there was anything that could be done differently to avoid such an incident in the future, Jones said, “It was kind of like a freak accident. That metal piece should have fallen out, and it fell in.”

Although his department is the designated hazmat team for the area, Jones said there was no need to respond with the hazmat truck and equipment.”

They were doing air monitoring, and all water used [to fight the fire] was contained on site in their containment system. The Environmental Protection Agency was on site, toured the perimeter and was happy that no water went off site,” Jones reported. 

Wellsville Fire Department had responded with its aerial truck and four firefighters to assure the perimeter surrounding the affected vessel was protected from exposure, Jones said.

Liverpool Township Fire Department brought two pumpers, two squad trucks and 10 firefighters, while Calcutta arrived with an engine and about eight firefighters while Glenmoor was on standby.

The city department had three men on duty when the alarm sounded, and a second alarm brought out Jones and five additional firefighters. The department cleared the scene about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday after a night battling a blaze like none of the firefighters had seen before.

Billowing clouds of black smoke could be seen coming from the vessel at times, and Jones explained, “It was like fighting a huge tire fire. The rubber and plastic (inside) are petroleum-based and caused the black smoke. There was no hazardous waste (being burned).”

While social media was active with residents not only in the East End neighborhood but as far away as LaCroft complaining of odors coming from the blaze, Jones said the smoke, for the most part, was being blown across the river toward West Virginia and seemed to be dissipating quickly.

He notified Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency Director Peggy Clark who, in turn, notified emergency personnel in Hancock County, West Virginia.

Company public affairs specialist Raymond Wayne, said in a prepared statement Monday night that the plant is currently not processing waste, having been on a maintenance outage since early Sunday morning. Work on the scrubber that ignited was part of the scheduled maintenance.

While no estimate of damage was available Tuesday from HTS, Wayne said a “thorough assessment” of the scrubber’s condition must be conducted with necessary repairs made before it can returned to service.

“We would like to express our gratitude to members of the local  fire departments who responded to our incident Monday evening. The community should be proud of their dedication and professionalism,” Wayne said.

Pictured at top: The smoke billowed for hours Monday evening.

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