Waste Water Treatment Plant damaged by fire

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published February 3, 2017

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WARREN — A fire at the city’s Waste Water Treatment Plant damaged a conveyor belt and electronic controls Jan. 21, resulting in “significant” damage that could have been much worse if not for the “textbook” response from the Warren Fire Department. 

Fire Commissioner Wilburt “Skip” McAdams said fire crews were dispatched to the plant on Warkop, just south of 14 Mile Road and east of Van Dyke, at about 3 p.m. after the system that dries solid waste removed from wastewater overheated and caught fire.

“The conveyor belt moves solids to the incinerator for drying, and they have to dewater it prior to hauling it away,” McAdams said. “What they think happened, there was some sort of power failure and the system switched to the secondary system, and the power transfer caused some sort of electrical surge and a damper may not have opened up, which caused the facility to overheat, resulting in a fire.”

McAdams said two workers who discovered the fire were evaluated at the scene, but were uninjured. No firefighters were hurt battling the fire, but the burning materials required extensive equipment decontamination afterward.

Air quality testing conducted in the surrounding neighborhood found no risk to residents. However, McAdams said the large amount of smoke from the burning of rubber from the conveyor belt and solid waste — including human excrement — quickly got the attention of those living near there. 

“It could have been a lot worse. Luckily, it was broad daylight,” McAdams said. “The people in the neighborhood noticed it right away. The smoke was pretty intense. We did do air quality monitoring. There was nothing that was harmful to the public.”

In a Facebook post from Jan. 21, Mayor Jim Fouts said officials would assess the level of damage at the plant. He also said he was prepared to sign an emergency purchase order to replace the belt and resume full operations.

At press time, solids were still being hauled away by truck for incineration elsewhere. 

“I was assured this will have no impact on city services, but we will need to haul sludge out rather than burn it at the plant until the conveyor belt is repaired,” said Fouts, who praised the work of the Fire Department.

McAdams added, “It was a textbook response. Unfortunately, that equipment is very specialized and critical to the operation, and therefore it’s very expensive to repair.”

An estimated damage total was not immediately available through City Hall.