A 24-year-old man was critically injured as firefighters from Fallon and Naval Air Fallon responded to a Monday morning explosion at the Bango Oil Refinery plant 15 miles west of the city.
The Fallon Churchill Fire Department — along with the Churchill County Sheriff’s Office and Nevada Highway Patrol and paramedics from Banner Churchill Community Hospital — rolled to the blast at the Bango plant, which restores used oil back into its original life cycle, shortly after 9 a.m.
Sheriff Ben Trotter confirmed one man was burned and flown to Reno via a Care Flight helicopter. He was then transported to the University of California burn center. He said all 14 employees at the facility were accounted for.
“Everyone was evacuated quickly, but the foreman and plant manager remained down there (near the fire),” Trotter said.
Three engines and a brush truck arrived at the scene and were soon joined by two crash trucks, which can project a long stream of water and/or foam toward the flames. The crash trucks were used extensively in June 2011 when an 18-wheeler ran into an Amtrak passenger train 35 miles north of Fallon.
Trotter, who was one of the first responders at the scene, said he learned that one of the larger oil refinery tanks exploded and as the fire spread, he said witnesses reported hearing three to four “small booms.”
Trotter said the fire departments did a good job to keep the fire from spreading to several white hydrogen tanks located west of the tanks.
He said firemen had the fire fully contained within 90 minutes of their arrival. U.S. Highway 50 near Bango Road was closed for a short time while first responders assessed any danger from the chemicals and whether or not any hazmat (hazardous material) teams needed to be called.
Bango issued a statement late Monday:
“the facility experienced a rupture in one of its product tanks. The plant was operating normally at the time the incident occurred. A small fire that resulted from the ruptured tank was quickly extinguished ... No material escaped the facility that would be considered dangerous to the surrounding environs or local residents. All operations at the plant have been suspended pending a full investigation of the matter. Bango Refining has dispatched a response and investigation team that will be on-site this evening (Monday).
Fire Chief Fred Rogne said three engines,two ladder trucks, six tenders (tanker) and three crash trucks responded.
“Weather was not a factor, but their valves to their water were frozen,” Rogne said.
Consequently, Rogne said firemen relied on using water from the tenders.
Rogne said the NAS Fallon crash trucks helped tremendously and were a huge asset to the overall firefighting effort.
“Our guys did an outstanding job,” Rogne said, adding about 43 firefighters from both agencies were on the scene.
Jerry McCullough, newly appointed ambulance service senior manager for Banner Churchill Community Hospital, said the injured man suffered burns to about 58 percent of his body to include face, arms and hands, abdomen, back and neck. McCullough said the victim was also covered in hot oil. The man had to be transported in the back of a CCSO patrol SUV and then taken to paramedics because of the immediate danger. Although the man was flown to Renown Medical Center, paramedics did not know if he would then be flown to a burn center at either the University of California at Davis or to Las Vegas.
Once McCullough arrived at Bango, he assessed the situation, he called for three Banner ambulances and three Care Flight helicopters. North and Central Lyon fire district ambulances were also placed in a standby status.
McCullough said the Humboldt County Fire Department sent a fire rehab truck to the scene to provide assistance to firefighters who were battling the blaze and smoke in 9 degree weather. Another ambulance was assigned to Fallon to provide back-up services.
“We are grateful for the first responders who airlifted the injured employee to the hospital and to those whose efforts put out the fire,” said Dave Peel, chief operating officer, in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to our employee’s family and every effort will be made to assure them that he receives the care he deserves.”
Fire crews spent the rest of the morning mopping up at the scene. An investigation has been initiated into the cause of the explosion. Trotter said later in the morning, though, a motor oil tank exploded and a crew was working near the line at the time before the explosion.