Bristol Borough schools reopen

May 17, 2012 9:34:43 AM PDT
They had closed after a fire at the Dow Chemical plant that was caused by a lightning strike.

Bristol Borough officials say Fire Police Captain Dave Wintz was responding to the fire Wednesday morning inside two tanks at the Dow Chemical's Rohm and Haas plant, located on the 3200 block of State Road.

Wintz fell ill and was taken home. That is when he was rushed to the hospital in cardiac arrest, where he died. A plaque has already been put up in his honor at the Bristol Fire Company.

Wintz joined this company a few years ago but would have had nearly fifty years in the fire service.

"He's been there for us. He's out there whenever the borough's needed assistance with anything, all of the events, the fires," said Bristol Fire Company Deputy Chief Francis Hufnell. "It's a great loss for the community."

Meanwhile, all schools in Bristol Borough School District were closed on Wednesday as a precaution due to the fire.

"They called everybody's parents and told them schools were closed today. The smell was too bad and they didn't want the kids to inhale it," said Shyvonne Vorters of Bristol.

The local post office was open for business but deliveries were cancelled, and a slew of businesses never opened.

Mary Finch from the Bucks County Opportunity Council on Mill Street said there was no sense opening when there were only a few people out and about.

"Our agency was closed down for most of the day. I'm just back checking messages, seeing how things are going. Obviously it's a ghost town down here today," she said.

Dow said the tanks that burned contained two different materials: Ethyl Acrylate and Butyl Acrylate. Both chemicals are used in the company's manufacturing of acrylic coating products, which go into paints.

Bucks County Emergency Management and the Bucks County Health Department say the chemicals have the potential to cause minor throat or eye irritation, headaches and nausea.

At about 12:00 p.m., officials declared that the amount of chemical in the air was at a minimum and residents could resume normal activities. Earlier, nearby residents were told to stay indoors and avoid exposure to the airborne chemicals.

Still, a strong smell could be detected around the area of the fire.

"The smell was unbearable. I came outside at 4:30 in the morning and my throat just closed up. It was really bad," said Stephen Cook of Bristol.

Elizabeth Sargeant of Bristol Borough says once that smell enveloped her house there was no getting away from it.

"It was hard to get out of the room, it smelled so bad," she said.

A statement from the company says an odor may persist for a few hours while the material is removed from the dykes surrounding the tanks.

The fire broke out around 3:30 a.m. Wednesday when a lightning bolt struck two of the storage tanks at the plant. The blaze quickly went to two alarms and was later upgraded to three alarms as fire crews battled the towering flames.

Dow says there are protections for lightning in place. ?

"All these tanks are in an explosion proof area, they're all grounded," said Zach Dunkelberger of Dow Chemical. "We had some real bad storms move through, it's a very unusual occurrence, but, for right now, that's what it looks like happened."

"The strike was pretty severe, it apparently blew some piping apart that was in the tank farm area, but it was a contained area," said Bristol Twp. Fire Marshal Kevin Dippolito.

On site emergency responders and area fire companies from as far away as New Jersey were called in to assist in the effort. Foam crews and Hazmat teams responded to the scene as well as cascade crews, who poured water on the tanks.

Employees in nearby buildings were evacuated as a precaution.