Officials investigating cause of Cranston chemical fire that sent 14 firefighters to the hospital

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — An investigation is underway into the cause of a chemical fire at an Elmwood Avenue business that sent 14 firefighters to the hospital.

According to Cranston Fire Chief William McKenna, crews from across the state responded to a chemical fire that broke out shortly before 5 p.m. Monday, including various fire departments, hazmat crews and the state fire marshal.

The building is home to jewelry manufacturer Gem Craft Inc. Gem Craft President Ronald Verri tells Eyewitness News the fire broke out in the rear part of the building, which is rented out to ProSys Finishing Technologies, a distributor of electro-plating solutions.

Verri said the alarm went off around 4:30 p.m., but none of his employees saw any flames. He also said the workers from ProSys had already gone home, so no one was in that area of the building.

McKenna said crews were aware they were responding to a chemical distribution company, but did not know if any of the chemicals were involved in the fire.

“It became quite hazardous when we found out there were chemicals that had been disturbed and containers had been broken,” McKenna said. He said the businesses and neighboring daycare will likely be closed Tuesday as efforts continue to get the situation under control.

McKenna said water from putting out the fire mixed with some of the chemicals, but he was unsure if the chemicals played a part in the origin of the fire.

“So what was a small fire that has been extinguished, is now a hazard material sight,” McKenna said.

Police blocked off Elmwood Avenue and nearby streets, helping cars detour around the area.

McKenna said the firefighters who were transported to the hospital were taken in as a precautionary measure due to the unknown dangers presented by the hazmat situation.

“We made it a mass casualty incident because of the number of fire fighters we are transporting,” McKenna said. “Eventually, all of the firefighters on the first response team will be going down to be checked out.”

McKenna said 14 firefighters were taken to the hospital for observation after encountering chemicals inside the building. According to McKenna, none of the firefighters suffered any injuries and some have already been released.

McKenna also said the scene is now safe and the owners of ProSys are having someone come clean up the building.

The daycare next door was evacuated. No one outside the building was exposed to any chemicals, according to McKenna.