Crews put out fire at hydrocarbon grease manufacturing facility in Batavia

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BATAVIA, N.Y. (WHEC) — Firefighters from Batavia and several surrounding areas responded to a fire in a hydrocarbon grease manufacturing facility on Pearl Street Friday evening, and the call turned into a hazmat situation.

Firefighters responded to an automatic fire alarm at the building just after 6 p.m. There was quite a bit of smoke coming out of one section of the industrial building when crews arrived.

Genesee County Fire Coordinator Tim Yaeger said crews entered through the first floor and found a large fire. They were able to knock down most of it, but then, Yaeger says, they saw drums of petroleum product that were expanding in the heat. Yaeger said some of those drums ruptured, expelling product into the air, which was behind the explosion noises some nearby residents may have heard.

Yaeger said there were also no sprinklers in the building, which was likely due to its age. Firefighters pulled back to strategize about how to ventilate the building and check the rest of the complex for remaining fire.

Once the fire was knocked down, Yaeger said crews turned to the next problem: A large amount of oil on the floor and on themselves after the barrels ruptured.

They called the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Town of Batavia employees flushed the water and sewer lines as a precaution.

Yaeger said the runoff from the oil and the smoke from burning petroleum product was luckily contained to the complex’s facilities and is posing no further risk to the public. Now, he says he’s turning his attention to his crews.

"There was a lot of residual smoke from those petroleum products, so obviously petroleum byproducts are nothing you want to breathe, but luckily there was not a lot of heavy contaminate leaving the property [it was] mostly contained within the building," Yaeger said. "A very light amount of smoke exited the building so our concern now is turned to the firefighters and their health and safety, making sure that their gear and they’re cleaned off and made safe as well."

Yaeger said there is some damage throughout all of the complex as well as heat damage throughout most of it.

On top of that, crews have gear that is covered in oil. Yaeger said the hazmat team is doing some on-site decontamination. While they’re cleaning the gear as best they can, Yaeger said some of the gear is very saturated and will need to be sent out fo second-level cleaning. He said it’s too early to tell, but some of it may be damaged beyond repair.

Crews are still assessing the full extent of the damage.

"We’re now metering the inside of the building to make sure it’s safe before we go in and start doing an evaluation of the amount of damage, and as well, the amount of hydrocarbon or the amount of petroleum product that’s on the ground," Yaeger said. "We’ve got to make sure we have the right PPE [personal protective gear] on for people to walk in there."

In all, Yaeger said it took about an hour and a half before the situation was deemed under control. He said no employees were there when the fire broke out and estimates crews from at least 10 different fire departments helped respond to the fire.