Employees have been evacuated from a Glastonbury, Connecticut company that makes cosmetic displays as an out-of-control two-alarm fire tears through the building.
Emergency crews have shut down Fisher Hill Road in East Glastonbury, which leads to the road where the burning Preferred Display building is located.
Huge plumes of black smoke have been billowing from the company on Roaring Brook Plaza after a fire broke out at about 11:30 a.m. An employee of the company called 911 to report that the roof was on fire and flames over took about half of the top of the building when firefighters arrived, according to Glastonbury Deputy Fire Chief and Fire Marshal Chris Siwy.
Employees said the building houses Preferred Display, a manufacturing plant that has been making acrylic cosmetic displays for around eight years and Siwy said it employs around 50 to 75 people.
Officials from Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) have also responded because they are concerned about what's burning.
"The facility doesn't manufacture the polyacrylic. They bring in sheets of the polyacrylic, cut that and use it in the work that they use for building the display cases," Jeff Chandler, emergency response unit supervisor for DEEP, said. "Fortunately, we're not dealing with raw chemicals here. We're just dealing with the polyacrylic. The biproducts of combustion of that are somewhat hazardous as far as inhalation."
Chandler said that as the plastic burns, DEEP is concerned that the burning plastic could break down into toxic gases like carbon monoxide and hydrogen cianide. They've asked people to avoid the area where the smoke is circulating or wherever there is soot from the burned plastic.
The factory was operating at the time of the blaze, Siwy said. Some employees thought the fire alrm going off was just a drill at first.
“Everyone is yelling, ‘Get out the building, get out of the building, get out of the building’. Sure enough I get out and see it’s not a drill,” Geoff Kasuga, of Colchester, said.
Another employee, Dan Piotrowski said "everybody was trying to find their friends, stay with the group, try to stay calm because everybody was kind of freaking out over the whole thing because nobody expects that to happen."
Adjacent factory Quality Name Plate was also open at the time and firefighters were concerned with ensuring the flames didn't spread to next door. The other factory wasn't damaged.
All of the employees safely escaped the fire and no workers or firefighters were reported injured, Siwy said.
“A couple people come up and pat me on the back, we all treat each other like family. I mean it’s a multi-cultural mix here but everybody treats each other like family," Charles Moneypenny, of Colchester, said.
Residents of about a half dozen homes on Sherbrook Drive near the factory have been evacuated and it's unknown when they'll be able to return.
Many people were stunned as they watched flames quickly consume the factory in Glastonbury.
"It kind of just spread everywhere, parts of the building were just collapsing onto itself a little bit," Moneypenny said.
When the fire is fully extinguished, the concern of people breathing in possibly toxic gases will be eliminated, Chandler said.
Getting water supplied to the site of the fire was a challenge because the area isn't serviced by city water, so crews had to rely on water from its tankers or nearby ponds or streams, fire officials said.
The "openness of the factory building" also added a challenge because the fire started on the roof.
Firefighters from other towns as far away as Colchester, Hebron, Marlbourough, Portland and East Hampton also responded for mutual aid. Crews should be there until sun comes up Thursday so they can extinguish hotspots, fire officials said.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Many neighbors were without power into the evening.
The old mill building, built in the 1800s, has seen many uses over the years, fire officials said.
“I’m glad everybody is okay but it’s still not good. All these people are going to be out of work. You know they have families they need to support and stuff like that," Moneypenny said.
Company leaders at the factory and the business's headquarters in New Jersey said they are focused on the safety of the workers and haven't talked yet about what will happen to the jobs and the plant in Glastonbury.