UPDATED: Massive Blaze Hits Dow Plant; Bristol Fire Police Captain Dies

Lightning strike blamed for 3-alarm fire at Bristol Township Dow Plant.


A lightning strike is to blame for a massive three-alarm blaze at the Dow Chemical facility at Route 413 and State Road in Croydon that destroyed two large tanks that held chemicals used in the manufacturing of acrylic paint products, according to local and county officials.

No first responders were injured due to the blaze. But 63-year-old Dave Wintz, a fire police captain with the Bristol Fire Company, left the fire scene after feeling ill and later died of a fatal heart attack shortly before sunrise, Deputy Chief Francis Hufnell said.

Firefighters and hazmat teams from Bucks, Montgomery and Burlington County in New Jersey responded shortly after 3:35 a.m. to the blaze and worked with Dow’s in-house emergency response fire and hazmat teams to quell the flames and contain the two chemicals that were in the tanks, a Bristol fire official said at the scene. A special firefighting foam had to be used to knockdown the fire.

The blaze was declared under control by the incident commander shortly after 7 a.m. Fire crews remained on scene coating the tanks with foam at 10:30 a.m. as hazmat crews began work on removing the remaining chemicals from the dike that surrounded the tanks, an official said.

By 11:45 a.m., the bulk of the hazmat operations had ceased and the county teams were released from the scene. The remainder of the clean up was being handled by crews from Dow Chemical, according to a news release from Bucks County.

Earlier in the day, the Bucks County Emergency Management Department and the county health department advised residents who live near the site of the fire to shelter in place due to the potential for the two chemicals -- ethyl acrylate and butyl acrylate -- to cause minor throat or eye irritation, headaches and nausea.

"I feel sick now and my father has had a headache since six this morning," borough resident Aubrey Jones said of the smell as she left her Mulberry Street home mid-morning Wednesday.

The chemical odor, which can be smelled in both Pennsylvania and across the river in New Jersey, is expected to dissipate as the day goes on and poses no serious risk to residents who can smell the odor coming from the plant, a Dow official said over the phone.

Due to the chemical odor, all schools in Bristol Borough were closed. However, the Bristol Township School District opened as usual.

The smell emanating from the fire scene began to waft into the surrounding areas shortly after the bulk of the flames had been extinguished, Bristol residents and fire officials told Patch.

Hours after the fire had been declared under control, a few firefighters sat in chairs outside the Bristol Fire Company station on Wood Street talking to passers-by who inquired about the passing of the company’s fire police captain, Dave Wintz.

"Dave was a great guy," the company’s deputy chief said as he stood in front of a plaque honoring firefighters that is affixed to the outside of the station house.

"He was around for everything; always volunteering in the borough."

Deputy Chief Hufnell said he last saw Dave, who had been volunteering with the Bristol Fire Company for about four years, as fire crews arrived at the Dow plant and learned a short time later his friend had passed away from a heart attack outside his home after he fell ill and decided to leave the scene.

Among the first to respond to the call reporting Wintz’s sudden cardiac arrest were members of the Bristol Fire Company’s quick response SUV who, according to the deputy chief, did everything they could to try to revive the former Navy firefighter, who had invested nearly 50 years of his life into fire service.

Both of Wintz's adult children are involved in the fire company, Huffnell said. He is also survived by a wife.

Wintz is the third member of the two-truck company to have lost their life in the line of duty.

A firefighter was killed while in the line of duty in 1917 and a deputy chief was killed while on a call in 1984.

Information on services for Wintz’s are expected to be announced in the coming days.

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UPDATE 11:30 A.M.

Bristol Fire Company Fire Police Captain Dave Wintz, 65, died this morning after going into cardiac arrest outside his home when returning from the scene of the massive blaze at the Dow Chemical facility in Bristol, Deputy Chief Francis Hufnell said.

Wintz was one of the first fire police members on the scene shortly after the call went out at 3:30 a.m.

Shortly after arriving at the fire location, he began to fall ill. The former Navy firefighter left to return home and collapsed in front of his Bristol residence.

EMTs from the Bristol Fire Company, where Wintz was a member for several years, responded and tried to revive the 65-year-old but to no avail. He was pronounced dead at Lower Bucks Hospital before sunrise, Hufnell said.

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A tank at a Dow Plant in Bristol Township was struck by lightning causing a three-alarm fire that involved several area fire companies and resulted in a fatal heart attack of a fire police officer, according to reports. 

The fire started at the Dow Plant at 3100 State Road in Croydon at about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, according to Breaking News Network reports. Within hours, the fire grew to three alarms.

At about 4 a.m., heavy fire from a large fuel tank which buckled about 30 minutes later, grew the fire to two-alarms, according to reports.

At about 5 a.m., the fire reached three alarms as two-250,000 tanks, struck by lightning, were fully engulfed in flames. The tanks contained some sort of highly flammable chemical, according to reports. At this point, local fire crews on the scene were joined by Burlington County, N.J. crews and County Hazmat units, according to reports. 

Shortly after 6 a.m., fire officials advised all municipalities in the area to limit occupants exposure to the outdoors until further notice, as fire crews were called for reports of chemical fumes in homes and buildings in Bristol Township and Bristol Borough, according to BNN reports. 

One fire police officer, who was on the scene early this morning, suffered a heart attack when he returned home at about 7 a.m. He was transported to a local hospital where he later died, according to reports. The identity of the fallen officer was not yet available.

Bristol Township School District spokesperson Eileen Kelliher told Levittown Patch Bristol Township schools are open today. 

"Classes will continue as usual despite the problems at Dow. The school district has been in regular contact with Bristol Township emergency management authorities. We have been assured that the fire from this morning's lightning strikes is under control and that the chemical odor that some have reported is not harmful. We will continue to monitor the situation and inform our families and the public if anything should change," Kelliher said.

Bristol Township Emergency Management reported at about 10:30 a.m. that the incident at Dow Chemical is under control and that any remaining odor in the area is from clean-up underway by Dow Chemical representatives.

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Eric S May 16, 2012 at 11:19 PM
It seems no matter how much technology we employ to avoid fires we get them anyway. Kudos to the responders for putting their safety on the line for the rest of us. Godspeed to your lost friend.
DSXM May 17, 2012 at 02:42 AM
I am disappointed in the Mercer County school districts for not closing today...oh wait, god forbid they lose their graduation ceremonies at Sun Bank Arena because of a healthy and safety hazard to staff and students.
Rudolph S Caparros Jr December 12, 2012 at 10:41 PM
HazMat Experts and Firefighters petition Dow Chemical and Union Pacific for safe rail tank cars transporting gas chlorine. Secondary containment is a necessary improvement that must be implemented. See--PETITION C KIT for First Responders Comments.


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