Omaha chemical fire update: State agencies confirm no asbestos in debris

Officials look at lessons learned from response
State officials have been in Omaha testing to see if chemicals are now in our soil.
Published: Jun. 2, 2022 at 5:52 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 2, 2022 at 6:14 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services confirmed Thursday that there was no asbestos present in the debris from the chemical fire that ignited earlier this week.

DHHS said in a release Thursday evening that Nox-Crete had told state agencies that asbestos material had been removed from the facility in 1993. But officials with the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency ordered testing of burn debris found more than a mile away from the facility “out of an abundance of caution for residents in the surrounding area.”

NDEE received confirmation from DHHS that the debris had tested negative for asbestos late Thursday afternoon. In addition to alleviating local health concerns, the confirmation also allows residents to clear their yards of any debris and dispose of it with other sorts of trash.

Officials still recommend that residents in the area avoid mowing their lawns to avoid accidentally dispersing or crumbling the debris, which can be dampened to aid in disposal.

“Residents are advised to double-bag the debris before placing it in their outdoor trash receptacle,” the DHHS release states.

MONITORING CONTINUES

Also on Thursday, state officials were trying to figure out if chemicals are now in our soil.

As they work to answer those questions, local leaders are looking ahead to what can be done better in the future.

Omaha firefighters worked tirelessly to put out the Nox-Crete warehouse fire Monday night.

But chemicals inside pushed crews out of the building and changed the plan of attack.

“Fire doubles in size every 30 seconds anyway. Then add chemicals that are flammable on top of that, it just makes the fire, once it gets going take off that much faster,” said Scott Fitzpatrick, battalion chief.

TRAINING & FEEDBACK

OFD firefighters train often for a hazmat situation like this one.

And crews were familiar with this particular building, completing a thorough preplan and compliance check back in December of 2021.

“Local rigs that are in that area they kind of know ahead of time hey, this is what’s probably in this building. This is how I need to fight it if something happens, this is what we are thinking so they already have a game plan in their head before they even respond because they already know I know this building by driving by or doing a preplan or being inside walking around,” Fitzpatrick said.

OFD says they have records for 220 Tier II buildings in Omaha. That means those buildings have some sort of chemical inside and are required to tell the state and local fire departments about it.

While OFD continues to investigate what caused this particular fire, they are already coming up with ideas to help them better respond to a similar situation.

“Any big fire that we have. Any fire, really. We will do a brief little hot wash, hey what went right, what went wrong. This is no other. Once the fires get bigger we put it into a report for everybody on the entire job to see,” said Fitzpatrick.

One of the top things being looked at now? Communication with the public.

County Commissioner Roger Garcia says everyone involved from the state to the local level is working to help on that front.

“There’s different jurisdictions that have a different role but all of those jurisdictions will be coming together to reflect upon how did the response go and if there’s any opportunities for improvement for future emergencies,” said Roger Garcia, Douglas County Commissioner.

OFD officials say they haven’t responded to a chemical fire of this magnitude in a number of years so they will be putting together an internal lessons learned plan for every firefighter to have on hand.

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