Volunteer Fireman Killed in Chemical Blast and Fire
Firemen claim they were fold by plant employees there was “nothing explosive” in the burning structure
A VOLUNTEER FIREMAN was killed and three men injured on January 30, in an explosion and fire which swept a warehouse of the Halby Chemical Company, at Terminal and Golding Streets, Wilmington, Del.
Following the disaster, firemen charged that they were told by employees of the plant upon their arrival there was nothing explosive in the building. Nevertheless they had been operating on the fire for only a short time when an explosion, believed caused by storage of chemicals in 55-gallon drums, killed one and injured two firemen.
The man killed was LeRoy C. Lewis, Jr., 24 of Holloway Terrace, a member of the Holloway Terrace Fire Company, first on the scene. He died almost instantly when struck in the neck by a piece of metal apparently blown from a metal cylinder. Two of three other members of the fire company standing near the warehouse with Lewis were injured. They were Theodore Ryan, 24, and Robert Hinton, 25, both of Holloway Terrace. Assistant Fire Chief Harry Ryan of the Holloway Company, the fourth man exposed to the blast, was uninjured.
The plant, which has occupied its present position for about six years, manufactures ammonium thiocyanate and ammonium thioglycolate which are sulfur chemicals used as intermediates by other manufacturers including manufacturers of cold hair set for women.
Cause not determined
The fire started from some undisclosed cause in the east end of the concrete block, one-and-two-story warehouse building. One report attributes the blaze to ignition of ether fumes which may have been touched off by a lighted gas heater in the building where the explosion occurred. There were said to be six employees of the plant at work on the premises at the time of the fire. The operating force of about 35 works around the clock.
The alarm reached Holloway Terrace about 4:00 a.m. and the local firemen were on the scene a few minutes later, to find the warehouse heavily involved. Fire Chief Jack Ryan dispatched a radio general alarm for all volunteer companies in the county, operating under a mutual aid setup, and this assistance was quick in coming.
Fire forces responding included: Claymont, Talleyville, Elsmere, Minquadals, Goodwill of Cranston Heights, Cranston Heights, Mill Creek of Marshalltown, Hockessin, Brandywine Hundred, Wilmington Manor, Five Points of Richardson Park and the Aetna Hose Hook & Ladder Company of Newark. Equipment also was sent by the Wilmington Fire Bureau and from Tidewater Oil Com -pany and New Castle County Airport.
Fire operations handicapped
Because of the heavy chemical fumes, firemen found it difficult to get to the core of the blaze. They were also left in ignorance as to the chemicals which were and might be involved in the fire. Chief Ryan of the Holloway Terrace Fire Company reported that on arrival his firemen were told by some company employees on duty that there was “nothing explosive” inside the building. However, knowing something of the type of manufacturing engaged in, Chief Ryan kept his men from entering the flaming structure. The explosion came while a crew of his men were pouring water on the fire from outside, near a doorway. The source of the explosion could have been the contents of a chemically filled cylinder near this opening. Following the blaze, the chief said there was a noticeable bulge in the warehouse wall near where the tube was supposed to have been standing. This indicated a heavy pressure had been exerted at that point.
The poisonous fumes and smoke given off by the fire seriously affected fire fighters operating outside until they could procure masks. The Wilmington Fire Bureau was called on to supply a 100-foot aerial ladder as well as fog and foam equipment. The aerial assisted in getting water on the heart of the blaze after flames broke through the roof.
Hydrants far apart
Firemen were also inconvenienced by the distance of fire hydrants from the plant. The closest one on the east was located 1500 feet away on Terminal, Avenue, and on the west 3000 feet on New Castle Avenue. It was later disclosed that residents of the area had for some time been pressing for more fire hydrants.
As the fire was beaten down, and hazard of additional blasts apparently removed, firemen moved in on the fire. The warehouse was a total loss but the rest of the processing plant was saved. Property damage was estimated at between $60,000 and $100,000.
Early in the fire a call was placed for rescue units and ambulances, which were prompt in coming.
Accident in Response
A fire truck of the Minquas Company of Newport, en route to the fire, collided with an automobile driven by Francis Fahey, 19, a photographer for the Wilmington Morning News, at New Castle Avenue and B Street. Fahey received cuts of the face and hand and was treated at Delaware Hospital. Two volunteer firemen were injured, John Arino, 48 and Gordy Mays, 18. Both were treated at the hospital. The apparatus said to be worth $25,000, suffered heavy damage.