PISCATAWAY, NJ – A West Ethel Road business was evacuated Thursday afternoon after a spark ignited a flash fire, causing severe burns to an employee who was mixing chemicals while cleaning out a piece of equipment.
The employee, a man who was not identified, suffered “second-degree burn injuries to his arms and face and was taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick for treatment,” said Piscataway Mayor Brian Wahler. “From what I understand he may not be transported to the Barnabas Burn Center, which is good news.”
The employee, who works as a chemical operator for Alpine Aromatics International, a fragrance ingredient manufacturer, was cleaning a tank with ethyl alcohol at the time of the 2 p.m. explosion, which then ignited a small fire. The flames were quickly extinguished by the building’s fire suppression system.
“Something caused the fumes from the ethyl alcohol to ignite,” said Capt. Scott Cartmell of the Piscataway Police Department. “The fire company is going in and checking now to make sure the fire is out and the County Hazmat team is on scene to determine the nature of the chemicals, and what they are before any action is taken.”
The explosion was contained to the room area where the employee was working. There were about 60 employees in the building at the time of the mishap who quickly evacuated once the fire started, with no other injuries reported.
“When he came out (of the room) his hair was singed and his arms were burned like second degree burns, and he had gloves on that were melted on his hands,” said Pam Davis, a co-worker. “As soon as I saw him I panicked.”
Davis said she ran from the building leaving her bag and cell phone after seeing the victim. “As soon as I heard the explosion it lifted me off of my seat,” she said. “I fell and just ran out of the door. When I saw him I felt really sorry for him because his hair was all burned. He was actually on fire. I don’t know who put him out, but he was on fire.”
“All six of the township’s fire companies responded, including one company from the borough of South Plainfield,” said Wahler. “Piscataway and County OEM also responded along with the county’s Hazmat team.”
Neither building on each side of the scene were affected by the incident, however Captain Cartmell said the businesses in them were told to “shelter in place.”
West Ethel Road was closed to traffic and was not expected to reopen until the evening rush hour.
Police officials did allow some Alpine employees who were parked in the front of the building to leave if they were able. Not all took their personal effects with them during the evacuation leaving some to wait several hours before being able to access the building.