Hoopeston blaze contaminated crews' gear

Hoopeston blaze contaminated crews' gear

Hot spots at site have kept area's firefighters there on a daily basis

HOOPESTON — More than a week after a massive fire started at a tire-recycling business in Hoopeston, volunteer firefighters continue to return to the site to extinguish hot spots, according to Hoopeston Assistant Fire Chief Joel Bird.

"It's pretty much dying down now," said Bird, who explained that the department has had to return to J&R Used Tire Service Inc., 103 Maple St., every day since the initial response, which started early on the morning of June 19 and lasted three straight days. But now, instead of returning two to three times a day, it's once a day, according to Bird.

Lloyd Smith, Rossville fire chief, said some firefighters with his department responded last Saturday and Sunday to give the Hoopeston firefighters a break.

Although the firefighting effort is finally winding down, the blaze has taken its toll on both departments' gear and some equipment.

Bird said their department's gear — the coats, pants, boots and other items the department's 18 firefighters wear — are contaminated from the chemicals emitted during the fire. He said that once those chemicals permeate the gear, it compromises their protective ability. And metal shards from the used tires were all over the fire scene and tore up the water hoses as they were moved around the site. He said holes were poked in the hoses. Bird said the department estimates a loss of about $50,000 in gear and equipment. He said those are the items they know of for sure, but that total could increase.

Smith said the Rossville department has about 13 sets of gear that have been contaminated and either must be discarded or possibly professionally cleaned, but the gear might not be certified back into compliance if it's just cleaned. Smith said it's slimy, black residue and oils on the gear and that compromises its protective abilities. Smith said they've pulled out old gear to wear in the meantime, but when they respond back to the Hoopeston site, they wear the contaminated gear so the old gear isn't contaminated, too.

Bird said the Hoopeston department is doing the same thing, and both departments have filed claims with their insurance companies and hope they can get all their gear and hoses replaced. Smith said their insurance company already approved new boots, because the boots cannot be restored, and he's waiting to hear if the company will cover the rest of the gear and equipment.

Bird said if insurance doesn't cover all of their department's damages, the city of Hoopeston has already pledged to make up the difference.

As for the fire site, Bird said, a fence was put up on Friday around what's left of the almost 400,000-square-foot building.

The property contained more than 50,000 used tires and large piles of shredded tires and pieces of tires, according to a complaint filed earlier this week by the Illinois attorney general's office asking the court to stop the business from accepting any more tires until a cleanup plan is executed in conjunction with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

Scott Mulford with the attorney general's office said that office will be in touch with the owners, Rodney and Janie Rogers of Potomac, to discuss an agreed order setting deadlines for the site remediation plan and other activities.

Mulford said the U.S. EPA is still on site treating contaminated water that flowed from the site during the multiday firefighting effort. The contaminated runoff was directed to a stormwater retention pond south of Illinois 9, which is south of the fire site. The runoff was contained there, so it would not continue flowing into a tributary of the North Fork River. IEPA officials reported a fish kill in the river tributary due to the initial runoff that could not be contained prior to local crews damming the retention pond.

The EPA's Brad Benning said they will continue to treat the water through the weekend and into next week, discharging it back into the tributary as they go. In addition, he said they've also been picking up debris from the fire from properties surrounding the fire site. He said the debris includes burned Styrofoam, pieces of tar paper and other items. He said the debris pickup was finished on Friday.

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