Fri, Apr 06 2007 


TOWN OF TONAWANDA: Small fire sparks big concern at Praxair

By Daniel Pye/
The Tonawanda News

Local firefighters were scrambling after a fire at the Praxair Technical Center erupted Thursday.

The relatively small fire started around 11:30 a.m. due to an electrical malfunction in an air conditioning unit, said Praxair site manager Dennis Conroy.

“All the alarms went off and the evacuation went perfectly,” Conroy said. “We were extremely impressed by the response of firefighters, police and paramedics. They kept the situation well under control.”

Building 70, the site of the fire, was evacuated, but other buildings on the grounds remained open throughout the incident, said Greg Butcher, Grand Island fire chief and public information officer on the scene.

“We had a fire in a structure within a structure,” said Randy Rider, Sheridan Park Fire Company chief. “The fire originated in a two-story air conditioning unit and the second story was fully involved when we got there.”

The site undertakes research and development for improvement of the processes used to create various gases for medical and industrial purposes. Those processes use many types of chemicals to produce the gases, but the Tonawanda site has only small, contained quantities of gases, Conroy said.

The fire caused an estimated $200,000 in structural damage and $75,000 in damage to contents like office machines and supplies, Rider said.

Potentially hazardous materials at the site drew fire departments and safety specialists from across the area, Butcher said.

“Because of the nature of the materials and production that goes on, we had several units respond,” Butcher said. “We had a hazmat team out from Clarence just in case anything got out of control.”

The fire was controlled quickly and teams made a sweep of adjacent areas to make sure the fire hadn’t spread or created any hazards, Butcher said.

“We caught it early and it didn’t get into any chemical areas at the location,” Rider said. “There were no injuries to the employees, but one firefighter suffered a shoulder injury.”

Despite the damage, the building should be back up and running in a couple of days, Conroy said