Anti-fire system discharges at gas station, sending 4 to hospital

REHOBOTH, Mass. (WPRI) — Four people were transported to the hospital Monday after the fire suppression system went off at a Rehoboth gas station.

Fire officials said crews responded just after 12:30 p.m. to a fire alarm at the Cumberland Farms at the intersection of Anawan and Winthrop Streets. It was quickly determined there was no fire and instead appeared as though the suppression system had malfunctioned, coating the entire area with dry chemical powder from the extinguishers.

“The next thing you know, there was a cloud of white smoke,” recalled eyewitness Daniel Frazier. “You couldn’t see this building, you couldn’t see anybody.”

“The first concern was the people that were under the pumps, getting them transported,” said Rehoboth Fire Chief Frank Barresi. “I activated a task force to get enough ambulances to do that.”

Officials said four people are being treated for non-life-threatening issues after coming into contact with the chemicals.

“Just a little irritation on breathing,” Barresi added. “When it’s warm like this, if you sweat, that will make it burn a little bit.”

It’s not yet clear what caused the system to go off. Barresi said there are only two ways it’s supposed to discharge: the heat from a fire can trip a sensor outside and there’s a button that can be pressed manually inside the building.

“We’re assuming at this point it’s a malfunction of the system,” the chief said.

Police said no charges will be filed as a result and the scene has been turned over to Cumberland Farms management.

Liz White, a spokesperson for the company, released a statement Monday night saying the store will remain closed until the fire suppressant is cleaned up and the investigation into the malfunction has been completed.

“The fire suppression system at the Cumberland Farms store at 232 Winthrop St. in Rehoboth, Mass., malfunctioned this afternoon. Although the cause of the malfunction has yet to be determined, an investigation is underway and it has been confirmed that no fire took place. Several people were taken to the hospital as a precaution. We are deeply sorry for the inconvenience this has caused to the community and to our customers. The store will remain closed for the time being until the full investigation and cleanup are complete.”