It"s a firefighter"s nightmare – a heavy industrial fire in the coldest temperatures of the season thus far.
The Chester Fire Department provided mutual aid for a fire at Falcon Foam (911 Industrial Dr.) in Perryville on Thursday night, one of a multitude of departments to respond to the blaze.
Falcon Foam is a division of Atlas Roofing Corporation. According to a Permit to Operate, issued in June 2007, Falcon Foam is a manufacturer and distributor of expandable polystyrene (Styrofoam).
The permit stated the business also operated a painting booth for stenciling and other printing procedures.
"When we went across the Chester Bridge, you could see the silhouette of the smoke across the sky," said Chester Fire Chief Marty Bert. "When we got on scene, to us it looked like two buildings fully involved."
Other media outlets have reported that three employees who were inside the facility at the time of the fire made it out safely. The employees also reportedly told fire officials that they believe the fire started in the facility"s break room.
The cause of the blaze is under investigation by the Missouri state fire marshal"s office.
"I talked to the Perryville fire chief (Jeremy Triller) and as he was doing his walkaround, (the fire) took off in those three or four minutes," Bert said. "It must have got to that material, that foam or whatever."
Bert, who was one of 10 Chester firefighters on scene, said his department"s role was to protect the buildings at the rear of the facility.
"We were on the back side where the smoke was coming from," he said.
The CFD was paged out at 9:24 p.m., shortly after the first fire units arrived around 9:15 p.m.
"The sprinkler system was hooked up in the back of the building and the building we were protecting was 150 yards away (from the main fire) and we had embers falling on us," Bert said.
Bert said he believed the blaze was the first industrial fire of its size that he has responded to in his 25 years at the CFD.
"I don"t know if we"ve had an industrial fire that big," he said. "We"ve had some commercial buildings burn, but not industrial."
Later, the CFD was moved to the north side of the facility to assist with a tanker shuttle. Bert said his department responded to the scene with a fire truck, tanker and brush truck.
"That leaves eight or 10 guys at the (Chester) firehouse," Bert said.
Bert said the CFD was released from the scene at 2:21 a.m., more than five hours after the first firefighters arrived. Hot spots were still burning as of mid-morning Friday.
"Perryville did a good job," Bert said. "It"s a defensive fire. With that kind of fire load and that kind of flames, we had around 25 departments putting water on it all at the same time and couldn"t put it out."
With temperatures plunging into the teens Thursday night, Bert said the freezing water made fighting the fire an extra challenge. The Missouri Department of Transportation was dispatched to spread salt around the area.
"In July, you"re fighting the heat and this time of year, you"re fighting the cold with the pumps freezing up and slick to walk around," Bert said.
With the possibility of chemicals on-scene, Bert was asked about the potential for encountering toxic smoke.
"We"re extra cautious and we"ll be thinking about that more in the future and taking a lot less risks," he said.
The Herald Tribune will have more information as it becomes available. See more photos in the Dec. 16 print edition of the newspaper.