On Saturday, March 25, 2023, at 13:34 hours Spring Mill Fire Company along with mutual aid from Conshohocken Fire Company No. 2 and Plymouth Fire Company No. 1 (Montco 43) were dispatched for a gas-odor/leak inside a commercial building at 801 East Elm Street, Quaker Chemical CTC Laboratory, in Whitemarsh Township, Incident # F2307383. The initial report was that the caller heard a loud explosion and stated a nitrogen tank was making a hissing sound. Whitemarsh Township Police Department unit 32R76 told all 32 cars “do not enter the building”. Whitemarsh Community Ambulance Association had units standing by 1 block away to provide EMS support.
Engine 45, Ladder 45, Deputy 45, and Chief 45 were currently operating at a fire alarm on Summit Avenue in Whitemarsh Township at the time of dispatch, Incident # F2307382. The company was in service with fans to help evacuate smoke from burnt food. The company started to restore the apparatus from the Summit Avenue call while Chief 45 and Assistant 45 responded to the Quaker Chemical call. First arriving were the 32 PD cars, shortly after Chief 45 arrived on the scene at 13:36 with a 4-story office building/laboratory with no apparent damage to the building to any structures with a further report to follow. Assistant 45 arrived right after Chief 45. Chief 45 informed the incoming units for Engine 45 to respond in from Righter Street and stage at Righter Street and East Elm Street, and all other units to stage in the parking lot of Quaker Park, 901 East Hector Street, Engine 45 was the first arriving fire apparatus at 13:38 hours.
Chief 45 established Quaker command at 13:39 hours and switched operations over to Fire Ops 6. Chief and Assistant 45 were able to open the knox box for access to the building as well as identify the labeled contents of the leaking vessel. It was compressed liquid nitrogen, UN 1066 in the ERG book, Guide 120. The potential hazards were vapors may cause asphyxiation without warning. It is not a flammable gas, but the containers may explode when heated. The gas is cryogenic. We identified that we had a small leak on a 230-liter tank, Whitemarsh Police assisted with evacuating the 700 and 800 blocks of East Elm Street and the Schuylkill River Trail directly behind 801 East Elm Street. The command post and manpower pool were setup upwind 100 meters. Command requested for the county Haz Mat officer to call Chief 45 on his cell phone.
Command instructed Deputy 45 along with Engine 45’s crew to donn full structural firefighting PPE along with SCBA breathing air to cut the chain to the leaking dewar and confirm the contents of the vessel. Deputy 45 along with 2 other firefighters successfully conducted the recon mission. The dewar would start to off gas without notice off and on. Haz Mat officer DC81 called Chief 45 at 13:45 hours and DC81 was informed of the situation.
Command requested for 2 teams with structural firefighting gear and SCBA on air to enter the 4-story building to check for any occupants and to do air monitoring inside the structure. Captain 43 with 2 other firefighters (Entry Team 1) and Lieutenant 55 with 2 other firefighters (Entry Team 2) entered the building at 13:57 hours. Entry Team 1 started with Division 1 and Entry Team 2 started with Division 3, these teams operated on the radio channel Fireground 6. Entry Team 2 came upon a dewar on Division 3 off gasing at 14:15 hours. They identified the contents to be Argon, UN 1006 in the ERG book, Guide 120. The potential hazards were vapors may cause asphyxiation without warning. It is not a flammable gas, but the containers may explode when heated. The gas is cryogenic. We identified that we had a small leak in a 230-liter tank. Both entry teams continued to search for any occupants and other potential hazards. Both entry teams exited the building at 14:22 hours.
Chief 45 contacted DC81 and updated him on the situation and it was determined to upgrade the response to a Level 2 full Haz Mat response at 14:20 hours. At this time units staged at the command post awaiting the arrival of the Haz Mat team. At 14:29 hours per the Weather Channel, the following conditions were reported; cloudy, temperature was 46 degrees, with a real feel of 42 degrees, the wind was out of the east at 7 mph, 96% humidity with a 30% chance of rain.