Flare-ups At Jessup Fire Scene Concern Firefighters

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JESSUP -- State officials were on the scene of a recycling plant that caught fire again on Tuesday. It is the fourth time firefighters have been called since a big explosion in June.

The number of fires at the Scranton Cooperage in Jessup has angered a fire chief who believes state environmental officials are not doing enough testing to find out what chemicals are at the site.

What chemicals were stored in the barrels inside the cooperage at the time of the explosion and what chemicals were used to clean and recycle them?

The chief of Jessup Hose Company #2 says he doesn't know, and that's why he says even small fires are potentially dangerous.

At the Scranton Cooperage in Jessup, the chief ordered his crews to back away after a pile of debris started smoking. That pile was left over from a plant explosion in late June.

"Anyone that knows anything about firefighting knows that to rekindle after eight weeks is kind of strange, which means we've got something that's in there, that's creating its own heat, and creating a fire," said Chief Steve Pitoniak, Jessup Hose Company #2.

It doesn't compare to the three-alarm fire in June that triggered an explosion and forced the evacuation of a neighborhood.

At that fire, front line crews wore Hazmat suits.

Chief Pitoniak says firefighters didn't know what chemicals were stored in the barrels cleaned at the cooperage. He says he still doesn't know what chemicals are on site.

"To this point, no one from DEP has been able to tell me what's in there because they don't do sampling, they don't protect the public," the chief said.

"We haven't had any talks or requests from the Jessup fire company to review the reports," said DEP official Colleen Connolly.

At her office in Wilkes-Barre, DEP spokesperson Colleen Connolly showed us paperwork that she says proves the DEP is making regular checks of the piles of debris at the cooperage site after the explosion.

"There's some metals, there's some plastics in the piles, but nothing that exceeds statewide standards, nothing that is a danger to the public," Connolly said.

"My concerns are the health of my firefighters," Chief Pitoniak said, noting that this is the fourth flare-up following June's explosion. And he says his volunteers will keep their distance until he knows more about what's on site.

"I'm not sending people in there until I know definitively what's in that pile. And until we definitively know what's in there, we don't know if it's a hazard to the public."

Connolly says this is the first time her agency has learned of a flare-up fire at the cooperage.

The chief maintains it is four, and in his mind, is concerned with what happens next if his volunteers are called here again.

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