Chemical Fire a Headache to Firemen of Three Towns
Spontaneous ignition of a bin of pulverized tobacco is believed the cause of a fire that caused $300,000 loss to the plant of the Virginia-Carolina Chemical Corp., in St. Bernard, just outside Cincinnati, on May 27, 1950. It also caused fire fighters of St. Bernard, Norwood and Elmwood Place plenty of discomfort before it was controlled.
Three large buildings and two railroad boxcars were destroyed in the seven hour struggle. The three structures, all interconnected, consisted of one four-story corrugated iron steel crane shed, and two three-story frame buildings in which tobacco, super-phosphate, phosphate rock and muriate of potash were stored. The box car were filled with fertilizer. To add “flavor” to it, piles of sulphur stored outside the buildings caught fire and the sulphur dioxide generated caused fire fighters seve,re irritation of the throat and lungs.
Despite the handicaps under which they labored, the firemen managed to save four buildings on the company’s 10-acre site.
The fire was first seen by an engineer of the sulphuric acid plant shortly befo.re 6:00 P.M. The alarm was transmitted by an ADT pull box in the plant to the St. Bernard Fire Department, a full paid organization, which responded with two modern pumpers, a service ladder truck and life squad ambulance. The Cincinnati Salvage Corps also rolled on this alarm.
An explosion in the dust laden atmosphere, shortly after they got to work imperilled several firemen and sent flames racing through the plant. Captain Harry Freudenberg and several St. Bernard firemen also narrowly escaped injury when the roof of the wooden buildings collapsed at 7:35 A.M.
Chief Charles Fisher of the St. Bernard forces called for aid from Norwood, Ohio, Fire Department under an existing mutual aid pact in the area. That paid department sent their 750 G.P.M. piston pump and crew of Engine 3 in charge of Chief William Murray. Shortly after, the Elmwood Fire Department under Chief Fred Behrens was summoned on the mutual aid call, and responded promptly. This provided a fire fighting force of five pumpers, and a ladder truck and ambulance, including both units of the St. Bernard department, which called to duty all off-shift personnel.
The water supply proved sufficient, hydrants on the plant grounds being used. One St. Bernard pumper took suction from a reservoir in an adjoining plant.
Notwithstanding dust explosions and the handicaps of chemical fumes and heat, there were no serious injuries among the fire fighters.
As the fire progressed, aid was asked of Cincinnati, but because St. Bernard was not among the cities which had contracted with the Cincinnati Fire Department for stand-by fire protection, Fire Chief Barney J. Houston could not complv with the request.
Photo by Burton Wells