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Anhydrous Ammonia Refrigerant Leak Causes Shelter In Place In West Albany Fire District

By JEFFREY BELSCHWINDER, Senior Correspondent | March 14, 2022 | NEW YORK

Story No. 050222112

On March 14, 2022, at 12:48 PM, The West Albany Fire Department along with the Fuller Road Fire Department, Colonie Fire Services, and Colonie Emergency Medical Services was dispatched to 76 Exchange Street the Old Tobin Meat Packing Factory for a hazardous materials incident. The callers reported there was a heavy smell of burning PVC coming from that location and there was multiple individuals vomiting at the gas station. The dispatcher was also taking additional calls for a strong chemical smell throughout the area.

Multiple chiefs called in route to the scene and the dispatcher notified them that they were taking additional calls in the area and one homeowner nearby stated the smell was making him sick. The construction crew working at the Tobin factory notified the dispatcher that they did strike an unknown gas line. Car 21 arrived on scene and had a strong odor in the area. After further investigation they were able to determine that the construction crews hit a line that was filled with Anhydrous ammonia refrigerant and it burst sending a plume out of the building covering the job site and the nearby neighborhood. Car 67, engine 412, and rescue 12 arrived on scene and car 67 established West Albany command.

With the West Albany Fire Department being the Town of Colonie’s hazardous materials team, firefighters immediately began to meter the area for ammonia and they began to get readings. After gathering multiple readings of the area the commanding chief moved the command post to the opposite end of the Tobin factory. Command began the process of determining the threat level to the public. After Firefighters went back into the hot zone with meters they were able to determine that there was still an amount of ammonia present on scene and the pipes where the leak occurred was still frosted over. Command, Colonie Fire services, and additional members from the hazmat team determined that it is safest for the members of the community to shelter in place in their home and seal up all of their windows and not go outside until the fire department determines otherwise.

Colonies Fire Services Public Information Officer Mike Romano gathered the media at a nearby location and had them relay the information to the public through social media and also had the dispatcher conduct reverse 911 calls to every home and Business in the area within 1 mile of the incident to shelter in place and not to go outside or open their windows. Some of the hazards with the Anhydrous ammonia-based refrigerant that was released was severe irritation to the eyes, skin, and lungs, but in high concentrations it can cause immediate burns to the eyes, nose, throat, and respiratory tract at any exposure of 300 ppm or higher.
Firefighters spread out throughout the area and began to collect readings in the neighborhoods around the scene and readings outside of the hot zone on Exchange Street. Firefighters only reached 12 ppm at one point depending on when the wind was blowing. Command learned that one individual was transported to the hospital via private vehicle. Additional resources from the City of Albany‘s Fire Department, Department of Environmental Conservation and the Capital Region Hazardous Materials Group which is made up of members of the hazardous materials teams from the Albany Fire Department and services Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, and Schenectady County whenever needed.

Command knowing that they have to bring this incident under control safely, spoke with the contractor on scene and made a decision to use the Shaker Road Fire Department's truck company to put a water curtain up and have the contractor pull the remaining lines out of the building and conduct a controlled dispersement of any of the remaining Anhydrous ammonia refrigerant so that it goes safely to the ground. Command moved the command post to Russell Road and Sand Creek Road. Before pulling the pipes the Colonie Police Department flew their drone around where the leak was and checked to make sure that there was no additional hazards.

With all of the units in place and command monitoring the situation, the excavator operator equipped with a self-contained breathing apparatus began to pull the pipes away from the building. With a Single pole the excavator operator pulled all of the pipes out of the building with no additional release of Anhydrous ammonia refrigerant. The truck company on scene began to soak down the pipes to disperse any of the remaining residual Anhydrous ammonia. The after the pipes were removed and firefighters determined the incident was brought under control they lifted the shelter in place order. No other injuries were reported and the release of the Anhydrous ammonia refrigerant appears to be accidental

This article is a direct street report from our correspondent and has not been edited by the 1st Responder newsroom.