Industrial Firefighting

Historical Industrial Fire: Imperial Foods

Source: IFSTA

At approximately 8:30 a.m. on September 3, 1991, an industrial fire at a chicken plant took place in Hamlet, North Carolina; 25 lives were lost. Previous fires had taken place in the facility, which was owned by Imperial Foods, but no precautionary measures were taken to avoid future accidents.

The fire began due to pressurization of fluid leaking from a hydraulic line. The leak, in combination with heat, caused immediate vapor and flames. This ignition transpired into heavy smoke making it a serious hazard very quickly. When workers attempted to escape they realized that the designated fire escapes were blocked and the doors were locked. It was common for the doors to the facility to be locked during working hours, but this often made the workers uncomfortable.

Upon further research, it was discovered that Imperial Foods had been in business 11 years without a proper inspection. The federal government was blamed at first for not enforcing the building codes and standards. Nevertheless, the plant owner, Emmett J. Roe, was convicted of non-negligent manslaughter, as he was ultimately responsible for the incident. He pled guilty and was sentenced to 19 years and 11 months but was paroled after four years. In addition to this sentence, The North Carolina General Assembly passed 14 new worker safety laws as a result of this fire. These laws ensured that workers could report violations without fear of their job. With the new laws in place, individuals such as Roe can be stopped and prevent the lives of many innocent workers to be lost.

RESOURCES

FEMA: Chicken Processing Plant Fires (PDF)

iCheme: The Hamlet chicken processing plant fire — outcomes and good practices for avoiding a recurrence (PDF)

NYTimes: Meat-Plant Owner Pleads Guilty In a Blaze That Killed 25 People