Written by Victoria Caruso-Davis and John F. Fitzwilliam Friday, 28 May 2010 08:30
On May 25 at 10 p.m., the Bethpage Fire Department dispatcher received an automatic alarm from the Town of Oyster Bay Ice Skating Center on Stewart Avenue at Cherry Avenue in Bethpage.
Approximately 35 persons were playing on the ice when they heard an audible alarm and noticed the ice starting to melt. Several persons soon became overcome by fumes, which were later determined to be anhydrous ammonia used as a refrigerant. Anhydrous ammonia is also toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
According to Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, a faulty “O” ring on a compressor valve allowed refrigerant vapor to escape, which triggered off the alarm and forced the evacuation of patrons and town personnel from the facility. “The rink’s Haz-Mat alarm system worked as designed and all doors opened automatically,” said the supervisor. “Town personnel coordinated an orderly evacuation of the premises and deserve a great deal of credit for their professionalism and composure.”
Bethpage firefighters immediately evacuated all occupants from the building. Of the 35 people present, four persons were decontaminated on scene by Decon teams from Bethpage, Levittown and Franklin Square before being transported by ambulance to area hospitals with minor throat irritations. Hazardous materials teams from the Hicksville and Wantagh fire departments entered and shut down the source of the leak with the aid of a Town of Oyster Bay (TOB) engineer. The Nassau County police emergency ambulance bureau, emergency service unit and 8th Precinct officers were also active in this incident.
The Nassau County Fire Marshal’s Haz-Mat unit was also operating on site. A staging area was set up for ambulances, patient care and decontamination teams. “The evacuees were assessed by responding medical personnel in an established EMS triage set up across the street at Bethpage High School,” said Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto.
Mutual aid was provided to Bethpage from 12 volunteer fire departments: Hicksville, Plainview, Wantagh, Levittown, North Massapequa, Jericho, Massapequa, Melville, Syosset, East Farmingdale, South Farmingdale and Franklin Square–Munson. Approximately 150 firefighters and emergency responders assisted and the Bethpage Fire Department’s Ladies Auxiliary provided refreshments on site.
Bethpage Fire Chief Dale Schultz thanked all the responding agencies for their help. The scene was not secured until after 2 a.m. May 26. There were no injuries to emergency responders. The Haz-Mat team members were all cleaned and decontaminated on the scene prior to going home.
Venditto, who along with Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano was on scene to monitor the process and offer necessary resources, commended the first responders.
“We were both impressed with the coordinated efforts of all of the first responders,” Venditto said, adding, “The Town of Oyster Bay owes a debt of gratitude to the many responding local volunteer fire departments, as well as the Nassau County Fire Marshal’s office, Nassau County Haz-Mat and Nassau County EMS. I would also like to commend the Town of Oyster Bay’s Department of Public Safety, which assisted with incident command and offered valuable insight and experience.”
At press time, the air quality at the facility was deemed safe and town employees returned to work at the facility. Additionally, equipment designers provided a complete service and overhaul of the compressor equipment. The rink remained closed Wednesday to provide time for the compressor to remanufacture the ice. It was scheduled to reopen at 9 a.m. Thursday.