As a machine burst into flames deep within a mechanical room at the behemoth Necco Candy Company on American Legion Highway last Friday night, the situation went from bad to insanely bad in a matter of minutes.
It was precipitously close to a disaster, but the end result was a lucky near miss – a situation that almost unfolded in what many have dreaded since the candy company opened 10 years ago and informed the City it would be using lots of ammonia.
Fire Chief Gene Doherty told the Journal this week that the Friday night fire ended up rupturing condenser lines that contained ammonia inside the factory, leading to a widespread release of very dangerous vapors throughout the facility.
Two firefighters were immediately transported to the hospital with serious injuries, and the loss of property and product within the factory could end up totaling in the millions.
“I was nervous,” said Doherty. “You go to that place a lot as firefighters and all of the sudden, quite frankly, things went to the crapper last Friday night right away. The sprinklers went off and suppressed the fire, which was good. However, when the firefighters were in there, evidently the fire compromised condenser lines that contained ammonia. That led to a release of vapors. The firefighters had been sprayed with vapor and didn’t realize it right away. Normally, they would have been decontaminated, but they didn’t know and took off their masks. They breathed the fumes immediately and dropped right to their knees. It’s an extremely dangerous product.
“They were shuttled right to the hospital and had O-2 therapy,” he said. “They had elevated fevers and were dehydrated. I was deeply concerned. That is a dangerous product. Deadly levels of ammonia are 300 ppm and we were getting strong readings of 700 ppm. This was very close.”
Doherty said that the state HazMat Team responded, along with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Revere Fire crews reacted quickly by all accounts and were able to keep the fumes and chemical out of the surrounding neighborhoods. Doherty said they set up a pooling area and captured the chemical and had large fans dispersing the fumes toward the ground. Some found an odor in the nearby areas, but nothing harmful.
“As much as it went to the crapper right away, we were able to adjust and contain it – doing what we have trained very thoroughly to do,” he said.
Both firefighters who were taken to the hospital have made a recovery, and no employees were injured or consumed by the vapors.
The fire started in a mechanical room, as a motor on one of the machines was observed to be cherry red in color due to extreme overheating.
“The employee saw that and went to call the Fire Department, but by the time he got back, the entire machine had burst into flames,” the Chief said.
There were some issues with the Fire Alarms, as they did not immediately go off to help firefighters find the location of the fire. However, they eventually did activate.
Fire crews did shut off the large ammonia storage tank at the outset of the response. However, Doherty said there was about 3,000 gallons of ammonia left in the piping within the facility.
Necco officials have responded and thanked the Revere Fire Department for their efforts. However, the situation is far from over and the factory is currently shut down. Damages could be in the millions, Doherty said.
“They are in trouble because a lot of the product lines in the building got contaminated,” said Doherty. “I believe the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is going in to determine how much food product is lost. I know the ammonia permeated the entire building…It’s a huge ripple effect from this fire and leak because it could have contaminated a lot of their product. It could be a multi-million dollar fire loss.”
Necco indicated in its statement that the factory is shut down pending an investigation and other environmental remediation. For Necco’s production schedule, it couldn’t come at a worse time – as Valentine production and Christmas candy are typically in the works now. It is uncertain if any Halloween candy – the company’s second largest business section – was still in the warehouse waiting for shipment.
“First and foremost we are thankful that nobody was seriously injured and grateful to the firefighters and first responders that helped our employees and put the fire out rapidly,” read a statement released by Necco on Sunday. “We are cooperating with all authorities regarding the incident. At this point we have not determined the cause of the fire but we do know that it started in our mechanical room and caused a small leak of ammonia for a short duration. We will be working over the next several days to investigate the cause of the fire, repair the damage and get our factory operational once again.”