2 killed in explosion at W.Va. chemical plant

A fireman battles a fire at AL Solutions after an explosion rocked the plant Thursday in New Cumberland, W. Va.Michael D. Mcelwain / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

An explosion rocked a small chemical plant Thursday in West Virginia's northern panhandle, killing two workers and injuring two people, police and company officials said.

The explosion happened around 1:20 p.m. at the AL Solutions Inc. plant in New Cumberland, a small town about 33 miles west of Pittsburgh.

The first officer on the scene, Lt. Jeremy Krzys, said he had been sitting at a traffic light when he heard the blast and immediately rushed to the plant.

"I just heard a loud bang and all of a sudden you saw black smoke pouring out," Krzys said.

Krzys said he saw two injured men run out of the building when he arrived. He said one man was badly burned, while the other was still on fire. Krzys says co-workers used blankets to extinguish the man who was on fire.

The company reported earlier Thursday night that three workers had been killed, based on information from emergency responders, but corrected themselves about two hours later.

New Cumberland Police Chief Lester Skinner says 39-year-old Jeffery Scott Fish and 38-year-old James E. Fish were the two men killed in the blast.

A third employee, 27-year-old Steven Swain, was badly burned and was receiving surgery and other treatment at Pittsburgh hospital.

The second injured victim was Dave Williams, an outside contractor who was at the AL Solutions Inc. plant at the time. He was being treated for burns to his hands and face.

The plant site is home to a large, corrugated metal building complex and a smaller stucco building that sits across the parking lot, which is where the men were working. Skinner said they were working with titanium powder, which is used as an alloy additive in aluminum.

The powder is packed into bricks that look similar to hockey pucks, Skinner said. It's highly flammable, which is why firefighters had to finish extinguishing hotspots before investigators could get to the dead men inside.

"It's not like putting out a brush fire or wood," Skinner said.

Labor Department spokeswoman Joanna Hawkins said federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials were on their way to investigate.

AL Solutions was formerly called Jamegy Inc. The company website says it also has a plant in Missouri.

In August 1995, a worker was killed and another injured when an explosion and fire ripped through the West Virginia plant when it was operated by Jamegy. In 2006, another worker died following an explosion and fire in a production building there.

At the Mid-Ridge Cafe, which sits along the main highway that leads into town and overlooks the plant, waitress Sandy Lemasters said she didn't hear the blast that was just a mile away. But it didn't take long for people to start coming in to talk about what happened.

People who came in said the men who died were two brothers from the town, Lemasters said.

"They came in and said there were two dead," she said. "It's a shame. That's the third time it's happened there."