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March 31, 1998
Chemical Incident

Article & Photos - Michael Messar


(Click Thumbnail Photos to see a full size copy)

A chemical explosion injured one man and forced the evacuation of dozens in the City on March 31.

Around 8 A.M., The Yonkers Fire Department received a call for a chemical explosion at the Patclin Chemical Company on Alexander Street. The caller stated that some type of chemical exploded, but did not know what kind. The caller added that several cartons of surrounding chemicals were smoking at that time.

A full assignment of four engines, two trucks, Battalion 1 and Hazardous Materials Squad 1 responded.

"The first arriving units at the scene found a white vapor emanating from the building. At that time, we had Squad 1 go to the front of the building with the thermal imaging camera. At that point, they detected a high concentration of heat in the building" stated Deputy Fire Commissioner James Hammer.

Members of Squad 1 suited up in level-B haz-mat suits  and entered the building.   Charged hand lines were set up nearby. The Squad using the Argus model thermal imaging camera, found a 300-pound cardboard drum smoking in the rear of a loading dock. The contents of the exploded drum were spread out across a number of surrounding drums and cartons.

Other units on scene began to evacuate surrounding buildings, with special attention to the northern exposures due to a northerly wind.  The chemical company is located along the Hudson River and next to the Yonkers City Jail. Metro North Railroad was also notified of the incident due to the proximity of the building to the tracks of the Hudson Line.

Staging and triage areas were established just south of the structure.  One manager of the chemical company was transported to St. Joseph's Medical Center with burns to the back of his neck.

After identifying the chemicals in the drum, the condition was stabilized and the building ventilated. The involved containers were then removed by firefighters using a forklift.

The chemicals were identified as Sodium Hydroxate and Sodium Medacilitate Penthahydrate. The drum was mixed six months prior to the incident as part of an industrial cleaner. The cause of the reaction was determined to be a third element or chemical that came into contact with the mixture. Patclin Chemicals, which manufacturers industrial cleaning compounds since 1958, was cited two years ago by the EPA and ordered to clean up the plant. The plant was reportedly up to code at the time of the incident.

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