In the summer of 1959, just off of South Boulevard, the Charlotte Fire Department was dispatched to a Charlotte Chemical Company during the demolition process. The crews found a large vat of materials that were left behind in the basement and there was a fire burning within the vat. The firefighters assumed the burning material was burning kerosene and began to attack the fire as such only for it to increase in heat and intensity. Running out of ideas and options, the crew made the decision to apply foam. The vat exploded.
When it was all said and done, 13 firefighters were injured in total. Several had critical injuries and one lost both of his ears and most of his face forcing him to retire from fire fighting. Another later committed suicide from his injuries.
It was later discovered that heavy rains had penetrated the exposed vat in the earlier months which contained metallic sodium sealed in kerosene. The water and sodium reacted causing the kerosene the start the fire within the vat. During this time period, vats were not labeled with what types of materials were enclosed so the firefighters had no way of knowing what they were up against. This had a profound effect on the Charlotte Fire Department and they began researching ways of training for these types of fires, ensuring protective clothing was more accessible, and expanded the fire prevention inspection program. Later, Fire Marshall J. F. Morris developed a system that would properly mark when a building contained hazardous materials.
Photo Credit: CharlotteNC.Gov
The system was a diamond shaped placard containing 4 boxes that indicated the presence of haz-mats, levels of flammability, health hazards, and reactivity. Later the system would be adopted by the National Fire Protection Agency as the Standard 704.
That's it for this week!