Fire at Detroit's Wastewater Treatment Plant

- An early-morning fire spread rapidly through Detroit's Wastewater Treatment Plant on the city's southwest side. The fire is out and investigators are looking into how it started so it does not happen again.

"The plant was blowing out a lot of black smoke this morning, and I got a call from another worker who said the 4th floor was on fire," says contracted worker Frank Arnone.

Plumes of smoke met contracted crews here at Detroit's Wastewater TreatmentPplant on West Jefferson when they arrived to work on Friday morning. A fire on one of the conveyor belts kept them at a distance, and firefighters busy trying to get to it.

"When we pulled up this morning, there was a lot of black smoke and we couldn't see the top of the building. Firetrucks [were] going in; they blocked the streets off," says worker Darryl Gray.

The fire was discovered around 5:30 a.m. in complex two of the facility that disposes of human waste. A few frozen hydrants stalled the fire fighting effort, but in no time crews had it contained and out, and were rinsing their gear off as a precaution.

"We are deconning our guys as they come out to make sure, because this is a hazardous material situation, so we're deconning them and EMS is here to check them out after the fact," says Battalion Chief Tracy Thomas.

What's being described as a relatively minor fire will likely mean major clean up in the coming days and an investigation into an exact cause. Luckily, no one was hurt and despite the emergency at the treatment plant it remained functioning the entire time.

"There is no environmental issue; there is no employee safety issue; and we're going to be able to continue to treat the sludge as we would normally," says William Wolfson from the Great Lakes Water Authority.

The Great Lakes Water Authority will now review the entire situation so they can make sure it was handled correctly, learn from it and grow from in. They also hope to learn it this was a mechanical issue, an electrical issue or possibly even human error.

UPDATE (4:30 p.m.): The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees blamed understaffing and lack of maintenance for the wastewater treatment plant fire, in a statement.

The release says:

"A two alarm fire started this morning at the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP). Some reports say that fire fighters experienced inadequate access to water pressure.

The last two years of collaboration between Great Lakes Water Authority and MDEQ has led to the chronic understaffing, deferred maintenance and organizational chaos which makes such accidents inevitable. This was the canary in the coal mine. A public health disaster on the scale of Flint could be next. AFSCME Local 207, which represents the largest share of union members at the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), has repeatedly warned of such events.

Management's dangerous policy of short-staffing crucial facilities is partly attributable to the MDEQ, which was culpable in the mass poisoning of Flint. MDEQ has a full-time representative at the WWTP and should be using this oversight to assure adequate staffing levels. Instead, the MDEQ representative acts in collusion with management in imposing a policy of deliberate short-staffing and layoffs.

This has created demoralization and organizational dysfunction. GLWA CEO Susan McCormick's official slogan for the so-called reorganization plan was actually "embrace the chaos."

Management is hell bent on running GLWA like a business, which is exactly how Flint was poisoned. MDEQ should act as a brake on such intentions, but instead they have facilitated them.

MDEQ is supposed to be a watch dog over the public health and environment. Under Snyder MDEQ has degenerated into a lap dog for corporate-style practices.

GLWA management and MDEQ are to blame for this costly accident, which could lead to further rate increases, and not the workers who are forced to labor under these unsafe conditions.

GLWA facilities must be properly staffed and the laid off workers be returned to work. MDEQ needs to stop sanctioning policies which are detrimental to the environment and public health. Our public health is not a business."

This is a developing story. Stay with FOX 2 for updates. 

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