50 caught in blaze gas cloud

Sheffield Forgemasters.
Sheffield Forgemasters.
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NEARLY 50 firefighters and steelworkers were taken to hospital after they were engulfed in a toxic gas cloud during a blaze at Sheffield Forgemasters factory.

Around 65 fire officers - just under one tenth of the entire South Yorkshire force - were involved in battling a blaze that broke out in the Brightside Lane plant’s main foundry hall.

Some 34 firefighters and 15 steelworkers were taken to hospital after fears they had breathed in noxious fumes.

A cordon had been set up around the building after fire broke out and firefighters were preparing to enter the site when a noxious gas cloud suddenly emerged from the flames and engulfed them.

Deputy chief fire officer Jamie Courtney said officers and steelworkers inhaled a toxic combination of three chemicals.

Initial findings showed the gas cloud contained corrosive and combustible toluene-sulphuric acid, toxic formaldehyde and the irritant furfuryl-alcohol phenol.

Most of those taken to Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital and Rotherham General Hospital were checked over after some complained of respiratory problems.

But there were greater worries for a group of seven fire officers who had not been wearing breathing gear.

Mr Courtney said: “Our main concern was for those who were not wearing breathing apparatus, who were briefly engulfed in the gas cloud.

“They were outside the cordon preparing to enter when they were caught up in the cloud.

“Initial feedback suggested they have not been adversely affected and are likely to be released soon.”

Fire investigators were still at the scene last night and had not yet established the cause of the blaze.

Mr Courtney said the toxic cloud had dispersed, the chemicals burned away and the area made safe soon after the incident.

“There are no concerns about an ongoing incident at the site,” he added.

Roger Richardson, director of the foundry at Forgemasters, said: “The safety measures in place meant the foundry was evacuated as a precaution and there were no casualties nor any significant damage.”

Malcolm Collins, Forgemasters health and safety director, added: “Following a localised fire in the foundry, 15 foundry employees were taken to hospital as a precautionary measure.”

Mike Shanahan, from Yorkshire Ambulance Service, said: “A significant number of ambulance resources were deployed to the incident including our hazardous area response team.

“None of the patients were considered to be in a life-threatening or serious condition.”

John Gilliver, FBU South Yorkshire brigade secretary, attended the scene to check safety measures had been in place following the blaze at 10.20am yesterday.

He said: “I don’t think people realise what dangers we have to face every day. As a union we will be looking into why such large numbers have been affected and we are awaiting a report on the operation.

“In the present climate when we are cutting back firefighters, when we have a large incident like this it does raise concerns.

“If we cut back any further on firefighters, cover will be reduced.”

Some 12 fire engines attended the scene, mostly from Sheffield stations.

Crews from elsewhere in South Yorkshire had to be called upon later to cover for them.