Emergency Plan For Sterling Plant Worked Out Well

By Charles Sercombe

Looking back at last Thursday’s big fire at the Sterling Oil plant, fire and city officials say the response went off as planned.

“The response was outstanding,” said City Manager Bill Cooper.

Residents living nearby the plant and those living in the public house project were evacuated as planned.

Wayne County officials came in to help as planned.

Detroit and Highland Park fire departments also responded as planned.

The one small glitch?

Hamtramck firefighters used up all their foaming chemicals as well as Detroit’s and Highland Park’s in battling the fuel fire. In all, over 1,000 gallons of foaming agent was used.

But that doesn’t mean the firefighters had to do without.

Fire Chief Steve Paruk said a back-up plan to call Marathon Oil to rush in a supply worked as planned. He noted that Sterling Oil also had foaming chemicals, but it was stored on their site and because of the blaze, firefighters could not get to it.

Paruk said he may suggest moving that supply to a site away from the plant.

As for the cause, that’s still being investigated, said Fire Marshal Paul Wilk. He said the fire likely started from a spark, but what caused that spark is not clear.

Agents from the state Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have been on the site. They have monitored the air for noxious fumes and overlooked the recovery process. Spokesmen for the agencies say there are no health hazards.

Thursday’s fire started at around 11:30 a.m. and it took firefighters several hours to knock it down. A huge concern was to prevent the fire from spreading to other fuel tanks, which if it had, there would have been a major catastrophe and possibly fatalities.

Firefighters largely concentrated on keeping nearby fuel tanks cooled down.

There were no injuries during the fire.

Paruk said the fire was one of the more dangerous ones he experienced.

“I have a few gray hairs. That’s for sure,” he said.

Mayor Karen Majewski said she talked with state officials on Friday on whether the state could help relocate the plant to an area away from houses.

It’s unclear what came first, the plant or the neighborhood and housing project near it. Gulf Oil at one time owned the site.

The fire came at a time when the company was planning to expand into bio-fuels. The fire also underscored the city administration’s desire to win public support for a three-mill tax to purchase a new ladder truck. The truck was crucial in preventing the fire from spreading. It is 33 years old and is falling apart, Paruk said.

For the average Hamtramck house with a taxable value of $30,000, the cost would be $30 a year. The tax would be on the property rolls for five years, meaning after five years the tax would go away.

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