The Daikin America plant was shut down after an unexplained fire in the fluoropolymer melt products building Monday morning.
No one was injured in the 12:40 a.m. fire, according to human resources and general affairs manager Marc Singleton, and the fire did not damage other areas of the plant.
“We’re still in the process of closing the area down so we can go in,” Singleton said Monday at 4 p.m. “We’ve been in there with self-contained breathing apparatus, and we’re clearing it out, but we have not been able to get in to do a complete investigation.”
Singleton expected the building in which the fire occurred to be shut down “for quite some time.”
Some parts of the plant reopened Monday afternoon, and Singleton said he expected more to reopen Tuesday.
Fluorine, a chemical used in that part of the plant, is flammable, but officials did not know Monday whether the fluorine had caught fire, Singleton said.
The plant’s emergency response team extinguished the fire. Decatur Fire and Rescue responded and was on standby at the State Docks Road plant.
The Daikin responders who extinguished the fire were sent to Decatur General Hospital as a precaution, Singleton said, but “all had a bill of good health.”
The plant’s emergency responders used full ventilation suits while extinguishing the fire. Singleton said the extent of gaseous contamination from the fluorine was not known, but that no employees would enter the building without gas masks until the air was safe.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, fluorine is highly toxic.
Flourine causes irritation to the eyes, nose and respiratory system; laryngeal spasms and wheezing; pulmonary edema; and eye and skin burns.
The chemical also reacts violently with all combustible materials.
Daikin America, which employs about 270 in Decatur, produces fluoropolymer plastics that are used in industrial applications in many industries, including electronics, automotive and aerospace.
It completed a $25 million expansion last year, and purchased the Prestolite facility in 2005. The fire was in an area associated with the expansion, Singleton said.
In May 1999, an explosion and resulting fire at the plant killed three employees and injured others. The explosion involved the chemical tetrafluoroethylene.
CAPTION UNDER PHOTO OF BLAZING FIRE:
The fire at the Daikin America plant in Decatur broke out in the fluoropolymer melt products building at about 12:40 a.m. Monday. The fire did not damage other areas of the plant.