Blue Rhino plant incident under investigation

July 30, 2013 By    

The cause of explosions that rocked a Blue Rhino production facility and reportedly injured eight workers July 29 in Tavares, Fla., is still unknown, but the incident is under investigation, according to the local fire department.

Tavares is about 35 miles northwest of Orlando, Fla.

Four employees and a member of a staffing agency remained hospitalized on Aug. 20, says Scott Brockelmeyer, vice president of communications and marketing at Ferrellgas, Blue Rhino’s parent company. Twenty-four employees were working the second shift at the time of the incident, the Tavares Fire Department’s incident report states.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with our employees and the families affected by this incident,” says Steve Wambold, Ferrellgas president and CEO, in a written statement from July 30. “We would also like to applaud the excellent work of local emergency personnel – their quick response, ability to accurately account for all employees and seeing to their immediate medical needs certainly helped to comfort everyone involved.”

The incident occurred at one of nine company-owned production facilities, where 20-pound cylinders are returned, refurbished and filled. An estimated 53,000 cylinders were on site, and most of them ignited, according to Tavares Fire Chief Richard Keith.

The facility serves all of Florida, southern Georgia and southern Alabama, and the only interruption to service occurred in the Orlando area the following day, Brockelmeyer says. The national company, with about 450 employees, was able to reallocate assets to service customers – much like it can do to satisfy demand during holidays and severe weather events.

Blue Rhino sustained an estimated $3 million in damages – $2 million in property losses and $1 million in the loss of other items, the incident report shows. Brockelmeyer says the company intends to reopen the facility following site cleanup, which is expected to take six to eight weeks.

“We have been humbled and overwhelmed by the response we have received from the industry,” Brockelmeyer adds. “We have been reminded through that outreach just what a great family we have in the propane industry.”

An August event was planned by local businesses to recognize and honor first responders to the incident, Brockelmeyer says.

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the senior editor of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at kyanik@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3724.

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