Rapid response saves lives following fire at explosives factory

Publié: 10 juillet 2013 22:25 CET

In the early morning of 10 July, just before dawn, the Finnish Red Cross volunteer rescue service was alerted of a possible disaster by the local authorities. The organization was asked to assist with the evacuation of residents in the Vihtavuori area following a fire at an explosives factory.

It was feared an accident, which caused a chemical reaction in one of the waste storage containers, could cause an explosion. The local fire department was immediately informed of the situation and public evacuations were initiated early morning Wednesday.

The measures were taken to guard against what could be a very serious and dangerous situation should an explosion occur. Rescue services were asked to clear a radius of 1.4 km from the waste storage area which was next to a warehouse containing 40 metric tonnes of explosives. The entire industrial compound holds about 150 tonnes of explosives in storage.

As the coordinating organization for the country’s Volunteer Rescue Service, the Finnish Red Cross was quickly alerted. Staff and volunteers were immediately sent to assist with operations in the Vihtavuori residential area at Laukaa municipality in central Finland. The effort involved volunteers from the Jyväskylä Red Cross branch, Metso Rautpohja factory group and Laukaa first-aid groups. The operation involved moving 2,000 people to safety.

Rescue services together with engineers from the country’s armed forces have assessed the situation at the waste storage site with the aid of an explosives robot. They have taken measures to stabilize the chemical reaction within the container and will continue to monitor the situation. There is hope that residents may be able to return to their homes later today, but preparations are in hand to deal with a longer-term exclusion.

Riitta Kangaskesti, the Finnish Red Cross collection and emergency response coordinator, said volunteers are currently preparing to accommodate the residents for the night at the Vihtavuori school and Laukaa evacuation centres. “The evacuation centres have registered about 100 people as of Wednesday afternoon,” she said. “Some may require overnight accommodation, and we have begun to prepare for the evening and into the night.”

More than 30 volunteers will be working in shifts from Wednesday evening onwards to provide support and care to the evacuees. Each evacuation centre is equipped with first aid kits and equipment to respond to an emergency and volunteers have also been trained to provide psychsocial support and care.