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Acid fumes fill Franklin Co. 911 center

June 09, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - An emergency occurred in an unexpected location Wednesday when battery acid fumes filled the Franklin County Emergency Communications Center.

A malfunctioning battery charger for the system's backup power supply caused fumes, according to Franklin County Emergency Services Director Jerry Flasher.

Despite the acrid odor of sulfuric acid in the communications center, Flasher said county residents with emergencies could still call 911 Wednesday night.

In the basement of the courthouse, 911 Coordinator Bryan Stevenson and dispatchers Denny Clopper and Jack Poe were taking calls shortly before 9 p.m.

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Flasher said two dispatchers were being rotated every 10 minutes and carbon monoxide levels were being monitored every four minutes.

A firefighter, his voice muffled by an air pack, said the carbon monoxide level was 17 parts per million, down from 80 parts before they began ventilating the basement.

Chambersburg Deputy Fire Chief Paul Benchoff said, however, that their equipment could not measure levels of sulfuric acid in the air.

Flasher said dispatchers were switching over 911 and radio communications to the Pleasant Hall Volunteer Fire Co. and Chambersburg Police Department.

"Our electrician has told us the battery charger malfunctioned and didn't shut down," Flasher said. That caused the bank of about two dozen wet cell batteries to "cook" and begin leaking acid into their steel case.

Similar to car batteries, they are stored in a room next to the 911 center. Benchoff said the fire department was called for a report of fumes in the courthouse at about 6:30 p.m.

Benchoff said four people who were in the building were examined at the scene, but no one was taken to the hospital.

Cumberland County's Special Hazards Operation Team was called to the courthouse. About a dozen emergency vehicles from the fire department and other companies also crowded the parking lot, along with about 50 emergency personnel.

Franklin County Hazardous Materials Coordinator Gary Himes said late Wednesday he expected the cleanup to last well into the night.

He said the leaking batteries would have to be removed and the building ventilated before operations returned to normal.

"We'll be here for a while yet," he said.

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