By Rebecca Zemencik, Managing Editor • firstname.lastname@example.org
HEGINS – The 600 block of Chestnut Street in Hegins was in a bit of a frenzy Sunday evening.
Emergency personnel were on the scene of a hazmat incident at 633 Chestnut Street, the site of the former Hegins Manufacturing, now a private residence.
According to fire personnel, they arrived on scene just before 6 p.m. and weren’t sure exactly what they were dealing with.
“The incident involved a 55-gallon drum of some type of chemical which was leaking in the basement of the building,” said Hegins Valley Fire-Rescue Chief Doug Williams, during a phone interview Monday morning. “He said there was a strong odor of ammonia and there was definitely ammonia present in the drum. What exactly the chemical was used for still hasn’t been determined. It could have been some type of floor cleaner from the days of the factory.”
Williams said the homeowners, who weren’t identified, claim the drum has been in the basement since they bought the property.
Williams said the drum was very rusty.
Around 6 p.m., the 600 block of Chestnut Street was blocked off.
Residents in the area were told to stay indoors and keep their windows closed and their air conditioner units turned off.
“The firefighters arrived before 6 and we were out of there by 6:15-6:20 p.m.” said Amy Deibler owner of All-Stars Ice Cream, Chestnut Street, Hegins, which is located directly across the street from the scene of the leak. “When we went outside the smell of ammonia was unbelievably strong. At first they made everyone get out of their cars and come inside our building. We thought maybe it was a shooting or a domestic of some kind because there was no visible smoke. But then my one worker, Anthony, who is a firefighter said it must be a gas leak by the type of apparatus they were putting on. And then everyone started running and for a little while no one knew what was going on. Then a firefighter came inside and said everyone out, get in you cars and don’t put on your air conditioners until you are clear of the scene.”
Deibler said she and two other employees took another five minutes to turn off the grills, fryers and different systems. She said at that time another firefighter came in and told them they needed to leave now, so they ran to their cars.
According to Williams, the level of ammonia registered higher then the equipment could register so county EMA and DEP were summoned to the scene about an hour after the fire personnel arrived.
Williams said the Pennsylvania State Police were also on scene and ruled the incident was not a crime scene and no one was arrested. He said the fact that ammonia is used for certain drugs made it suspicious and that is why the state police had to make the ruling. He said when state police and DEP checked everything out and said it wasn’t a crime scene, clean-up could begin.
“This was something new to us,” said Williams. “We weren’t sure what we were dealing with and that took a while until we knew. We probably did a little overkill with asking residents to stay inside, and keeping their windows closed and AC units turned off, but it’s better to be safe then sorry. Local EMA coordinator Dan Wagner was also on scene. We kept everything contained and had to take extra precautions when the rain began to fall because some chemicals react differently to rain.”
Williams said the Hegins Township Supervisors were also notified, but only one of the five could be reached and showed up on scene. He said when an incident like this occurs, the township supervisors must come on board because of the nature of the incident and expenses that could be incurred by the township.
“The family that lives there, which includes three adults and three children, weren’t able to go back inside the building and will not be able to go back inside until the township code enforcement officer from Leight Heigel determines that it is safe to be occupied,” said Williams. “Red Cross was called in to help the family.”
According to Williams, two of the adults and two of the children were taken via ambulance to the hospital due to burning eyes and irritated throats. He said no firefighters were injured.
“The firefighters were hosed down when they came out of the building because that is standard procedure for an incident like this,” said Williams.
According to Williams, Chestnut Street was reopened at approximately 11:30 p.m.
Around midnight Sunday night, Hegins Valley Fire-Rescue posted an update on their Facebook page which stated: “We would like to update the citizens of the Township on the Haz-Mat incident we were dispatched to this evening. There was a Hazardous materials dispersal. However, contrary to initial reports and other posts currently on Facebook there was not a Meth lab in the residence. County EMA and DEP are on scene and in the process of mitigating the spill. Exact materials and circumstances leading to the spill are still being determined. We thank everyone for their cooperation.”