Tuesday, January 02, 2007

This Date in Fire History - Jan 2

110 years after Cincinnati tested the first practical fire engine in 1853, a good chunk of the Terre Haute FD -- and their much more modern fire engines -- were put to the test when a fire ripped through the Home Meat Packing Company plant in Terre Haute, killing 16.

I was unable to find any info on the fire, which isn't all that surprising, but I can hazard a guess as to what caused the deaths: locked or blocked exits, and/or flammable chemicals used in the processing. This is based on my knowledge of other foord-processing plant fires, including several in the 70's and 80's that still managed to kill workers.

In many companies, there is the belief that "it can't happen here", despite the fact that food plants have a discouraging history of fatal fires.

Anhydrous ammonia, which is quite toxic, is used in commercial refrigeration units like those used in food processing plants (it's also used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, but that's for another post). In addition, the hydraulic fluids used in much of the equipment is highly flammable.


  1. blogspot comment seemed to truncate the link. I split it into three parts and trust you can put it together.

    The link:

  2. quoting from the Terre Haute paper:

    "In the weeks following the tragedy, 64 lawsuits were initiated against the Terre Haute Gas Corp. by injured employees and the families of those killed.

    State Fire Marshal Ira J. Anderson and Bernard Sweeney, the chief investigator, associated the explosion with several leaks in gas mains surrounding the plant.

    The focal point of the blast, it was concluded, was under the loading docks. There was evidence that leaking natural gas may have accumulated for several days under frozen top soil and, during the four-day New Year's holiday shutdown, seeped into the closed building.

    Injured employee Donald Melcho told a Terre Haute Star reporter from his hospital bed that there was "a foul odor, like sewer gas, in the basement minutes before the explosion."

    Defense witnesses contended that an ammonia gas leak triggered the detonation.

    In March 1964, all 64 personal injury and wrongful death cases were settled for the combined sum of $1,653,000.

    Opened June 8, 1907, as Home Packing & Ice Co., the firm processed and distributed Dependable brand hams, bacon and lard to every state and eight foreign countries.

    The company had completed a three-year building and remodeling program in 1960. The plant covered about two city blocks and employed about 300 people.

    It did not resume operations, citing financial losses caused by the tragedy."