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Special operations team helps out in Baltimore County emergency

December 16, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

When two leaky 1,800-gallon propane tanks caught fire at the Coca-Cola plant in Baltimore County, Md., last week, the Washington County Special Operations Team and a local heating company went to the rescue.

On Thursday, a forklift operator at the plant had damaged the propane tanks, which leaked several hundred gallons of the flammable liquid, said John Bentley, special ops deputy coordinator.

Firefighters from Baltimore County put out the 50-foot flames shooting from the tanks but the heat had melted the valves, making it impossible to shut them off completely, Bentley said.

Most of the propane was transferred to another receptacle but the remaining propane and vapor had to be burned off. The process required an industrial-size torch that was unavailable in Baltimore County, said Bentley.

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Bentley said Baltimore County Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team Deputy Chief Gary Warren contacted him because he knew that the Washington County Special Ops team used such a torch in their training exercises.

It was crucial to burn off the liquid and vapor because it could have exploded, said Warren.

"If it had exploded it could have thrown shrapnel from the tanks about a half a mile to a mile away," he said.

Businesses nearby had been evacuated as a result of the accident.

The torch is the property of Bill Shawley who uses it for his business, Shawley's Superior Gas-So Fine of Hagerstown.

For the past several years Shawley has allowed the Washington County special ops team to conduct training exercises with the equipment.

Shawley agreed to let the torch be passed to Baltimore County because "It's important to help other people ensure the safety of their community," he said.

He and members of the special ops team arrived at the plant around 9:30 p.m. and worked until the early hours of Friday, he said.

The Baltimore County incident scene was the most distant site the Washington County special ops team has responded to.

The industrial torch used is not difficult to operate but requires an experienced hand because of the radiant heat it generates, Shawley said.

"It can give you a sunburn," he said.

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