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Corner of TabSickened firefighters doing well Corner of TabHighlights

Thursday, September 14, 2000
Sun staff writer

Firefighters and emergency personnel who were sickened during a chemical fire Tuesday afternoon in Gilchrist County were able to return home after decontamination and treatment early Wednesday morning at a Gainesville hospital.

The 16 men and women included firefighters from Bell Volunteer Fire Department, Gilchrist County Sheriff's personnel and a dispatcher. The fire happened about 4 p.m. when a farm tractor caught fire just south of Bell and west of State Road 129 at Philman Customer Service, which leases the land for crop production, said Ron McQueen, director of emergency management for Gilchrist County.

In the hours after the fire, several of the firefighters began to complain of nausea and vomiting. They contacted North Florida Regional Medical Center, which called in extra people and set up a decontamination area in the parking lot. They also called Gainesville Fire Rescue's hazardous materials team to assess and decontaminate the patients.
The patients were scrubbed down and then some were given fluids intravenously and some received medicine for their headaches. All were released from North Florida at about 3:15 a.m. after all their symptoms ended, McQueen said.
"Everybody's doing pretty good," McQueen said. "Believe it or not, most of them went to work today."

The poisoning was probably a combination of the flaming tires and the agricultural chemicals, which were later found to be a fungicide called Ridomil Gold and an organic phosphate insecticide called Thimet 20-G. The rescue personnel didn't know chemicals were involved in the fire, McQueen said. A sign was posted next to the driveway, but the fire blocked its from the firefighters' sight, McQueen said.

And because the tractor was unattended when it caught fire, nobody was available to tell them about the chemicals, McQueen said.

"The firefighters didn't know there was a situation that could harm them," McQueen said. If they had known, they could have called the Gainesville Fire Rescue's hazardous materials team to come out and decontaminate them at the site, said GFR spokesman Stuart Schwartz. The Department of Environmental Protection visited the site Wednesday and continues to investigate, but the land operator did nothing wrong, McQueen said. "The person running the land did everything he was legally supposed to do with the chemicals," McQueen said.

But the fire will probably change the way emergency personnel are trained in Gilchrist County, McQueen said. While firefighters are used to dealing with some chemicals, those in Tuesday's fire are not as familiar to them, McQueen said. "We'll focus more on the use of agricultural products," McQueen said of future training. Fire Investigators haven't determined the fire's cause.

Kathy Ciotola can be reached at 338-3109 or at ciotolk@gvillesun.com.
Copyright 2000 The Gainesville Sun



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