Church Spared in Fire, Firefighters Spared Exposure to Potentially Dangerous Chemical


It may be divine intervention a Posey County fire wasn’t worse than it was, Monday morning.
There were a dozen firefighters out of commission for hours, and a church parking lot potentially holding a pool of dangerous oil.

The fire at St. Francis Xavier Church in Poseyville pulled firefighters from five departments, including Wadesville, Smith Township, Griffin, and New Harmony around 9 a.m.

The fire in the back of the church  was fought and finished in a few hours. Damage to the church was minimal, and there was only minor smoke damage to the sanctuary.

But the day was nearly a fiasco for the fire departments, anyway.

“One transformer had opened up and leaked out oil,” says Poseyville Fire Chief, Sam Martin. “They’re uncertain what oil was in it.”

Some transformer oil contains a carcinogenic chemical called PCB. The chemical was banned in the United States in 1979, but some products made before then still contain the dangerous compound.

Firefighters were quickly concerned about exposure to the dangerous oil, walking through pools, or picking up tools off the ground.

Professor Arlen Kaufman, with University of Evansville Environmental Studies, says exposure to PCB can cause rashes on the skin, but if it’s ingested, it won’t leave your system and it’s proven to cause cancer.

It wasn’t clear right away if the spilled oil contained PCB, so major precautions were taken to clean up the mess. Clean-up crews were washing oil from a storm drain, and gear for a dozen firefighters was  quarantined for hours.

Martin says it was about $40,000 worth of equipment set aside. Gear that couldn’t be used in another emergency. Gear that would have to be destroyed if PCB chemicals were found.

After hours of waiting, test results from Indianapolis showed low levels of PCB, and Martin says there is no threat. All of the gear was cleared and available.

“You don’t know what going to happen,” Martin says of the unpredictability of emergency response. “Five seconds from now or five hours from now, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

On a morning some expected to mourn the loss of their church, firefighters saved the day.

Thanks to lady luck, Sunday service isn’t far away.

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