Aug. 3, 2002 Two firefighters were slightly injured Saturday when an unidentified chemical substance ignited inside a trailer near a downtown St. Thomas gas station.
The incident took place around noon near the Polyberg Texaco station, about two blocks northeast of the Federal Building. Emergency crews from the Police Department, Fire Service, Emergency Medical Service and V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency responded quickly to the scene.
According to Merwyn Potter, Fire Service chief for the St. Thomas-St. John district, the two firefighters suffered inhalation injuries from noxious fumes as they tried to put out the fire inside the trailer. "They went in there because there was a fire involved," he said, and as water from a fire hose came in contact with some chemicals, it set off a reaction.
The two men were taken to nearby Roy L. Schneider Hospital, where they were treated and released. They then returned to the scene of the fire to continue working.
Clayton Sutton, VITEMA deputy director, said the trailer, which Texaco owns, was parked near the gas station. It contains the system that is used to keep the underground soil around the gas station clean.
Polyberg Texaco is a small gas station along a narrow roadway in a densely populated residential area, surrounded by two-story buildings. The station, which was open for business at the time of the incident, was not damaged, but Potter said about 20 people were evacuated from the area, including a family of six.
The station was closed for the remainder of Saturday but will reopen on Sunday, owner Tom Gutshall said.
Gutshall, who saw the smoke from his Raphune Hill home, called 911. "The response from the fire department, VITEMA and the haz-mat people and the police was extremely professional," he said. "I was very impressed."
Emergency workers spent several hours conducting a hazardous materials procedure to assess the situation. "We're still going through an assessment phase, trying to determine what it is" that caused the fire, Sutton said late Saturday afternoon.
Police had set up road blocks in the area, directing motorists away from the scene until the situation was resolved. As of 5:45 p.m. residents were being allowed back into the area.
Sutton said although the chemicals have not been identified, it is known that "they are not toxic and not explosive."
He said emergency managers will return to the site on Monday to conduct further tests seeking to identify the chemicals.
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