Goshen firefighters clean ammonia spill

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 2, 2002

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A Goshen firefighter is recovering from second- and third-degree burns after working to clean an ammonia spill on Sunday.

Assistant Fire Chief Curtis Shaver will undergo treatments for 10 weeks for the burns on his arms.

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"I am going to miss deer hunting," said Shaver, who was also preparing to join the Troy Fire Department in the upcoming weeks.

The incident occurred on Sunday, when the fire department received a call at 6:30 p.m. from a local farmer who was having difficulty with an anhydrous ammonia shipment.

Once on the scene, Fire Chief Mark Miley and Shaver discovered the problem involved the 18-wheeler that was shipping ammonia that the farmer uses for fertilizer. The valve on the truck was damaged and was releasing ammonia.

"The valve that shuts off the gas coming from the nurse tank malfunctioned. We couldn’t cut off the gas," Shaver said. "There was no way to shut it off."

The valve was releasing ammonia in a liquid state. In that form it acts as a freezing agent and causing burns when it comes in contact with skin.

The truck is estimated to have been carrying 8,000 to 9,000 pounds of ammonia.

When Miley and Shaver attempted to cap the valve, the pressure from the valve blew the liquid through the seal onto Shaver’s sleeve and pushed his helmet off his head.

A cloud of gas enveloped the area.

"It was just a mistake. We are all human," Shaver said.

"We were told by the maintenance men at the scene it wouldn’t be liquid, but vapor.

"We could’ve dealt with the vapor, but we got pure liquid nitrogen. It was just an honest mistake," he said.

According to Miley, the department was well prepared to deal with ammonia vapor, but nothing could be done to control the liquid form.

"We followed procedure to the T. We would’ve been prepared if it had really been vapor and not liquid," Miley said.

Miley also said the bad valve could not have been fixed beforehand because the ammonia was already inside the tank.

"The problem was inevitable. There was nothing else that could’ve been done about it," Miley said.

When it was discovered the ammonia was being released in the liquid form, the firefighters allowed the liquid to turn to vapor form before attempting to cap the valve again.

At 10 p.m. the situation was under control.

"The released ammonia will dissipate into the atmosphere," Shaver said.

According to Miley, a total of seven firefighters were allowed on the scene.

"We had to limit the number of people at the scene, because we had to know who to account for," he said. Three were injured

Shaver was transported to Edge Regional Medical Center where he was treated for respiratory problems and second- and third-degree burns on his arms. Firefighters Jamie Johns and Ross Paul were also treated for respiratory problems.

Despite his bandages and future daily dates with the whirlpool, Shaver said he would respond the same way if it happened again.

"Knowing the outcome, I would’ve let the ammonia drain until the pressure was lowered, but I would’ve reacted the same way.

"It was just the right thing to do," Shaver said.