Chemical plant evacuated after mixture sparks fire, officials say

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BRANCHBURG — An inadvertent mixture started a 55-gallon drum fire that evacuated a Meister Avenue chemical plant and required a hazmat team Friday afternoon, fire officials said.

At about 3:40 p.m., the North Branch Volunteer Fire Dept. responded to a pull station alarm and found a working fire at the Voltaix chemical manufacturing facility, according to Chief David Hickson.
Hickson called for backup from the Readington Fire Dept.; Bradley Gardens Fire Dept., for its specialized Firefighter Assistance Search Team; the Somerset County Hazmat team; and Branchburg Rescue Squad.
"After ensuring that all employees were evacuated and accounted for, we checked the guidelines for the quantity and type of chemicals involved, and determined that neighboring facilities did not need to be evacuated," Hickson said.
One of the chemicals involved, however, was "water reactive," Hickson said, which meant that the water would actually feed into the fire instead of extinguishing it.
Officials setup a command center at Hickson's first responder vehicle located away from the scene, and monitored the fire through Voltaix's Web-based CCTV system. 
"We were able to monitor the fire remotely without putting firefighters in danger," he said.
"Once we determined that the fire had self-extinguished, we worked with the Voltaix employees to determine that the fire was fully extinguished, and the chemicals were stable."
The drum was moved to a locked chemical storage area for disposal by an outside hazmat cleanup company, Hickson said.
The entire incident took place over 90 minutes, he said.
This isn't the first time fire officials have been called to the Branchburg chemical company.
One patient was sent to the hospital after a chemical explosion at Voltaix in 2008.
Similar to Friday's events, the 2008 incident involved chemicals that also reacted with water, and required fire units to remain on the scene for a 24-hour period while they monitored the fire and waited for the chemicals to cool down. | Tags:  chemical plant fire, plant fire, fire protection, fire sprinklers, detection