During a Chemical Blaze that Captured National Attention, SWS Kept Employees Out of Harm’s Way

When the Ames, West Virginia, chemical fire put our client’s local office at risk of dangerous smoke, Doug Uhrig from SWS reported to the scene.

The client is one of the largest railroads in the country, covering the entire eastern half of the United States. They weren’t responsible for the fire, but they were directly impacted by the blaze.

Here’s our interview with Doug:

Doug, this fire was on national news. What happened?

Doug: There was a fire at an old manufacturing and distribution facility, close to our client’s yard in Parkersburg, WV. A lot of smoke was coming off the fire, and the town declared a state of emergency that shut down schools and public buildings. Many people were ordered to evacuate their homes.

Since the blaze was threatening the safety of our client’s employees, SWS was called in to do  employee exposure monitoring and make sure the locations were safe to work in and return to.

Exposure monitoring isn’t on SWS’s typical list of services. What made them think to come to SWS for that particular service?

Doug: I have a good relationship with their monitoring team, and with CSX. I specialize in industrial hygiene, and everyone knows each other in that field. So they knew a few high-level things that we do, and they knew that we had access to some particulate monitoring equipment.

We checked to make sure their employees wouldn’t have any respiratory problems with the smoke that was filling the area.

How do you know how to use a particulate monitor?

Doug: I have a lot of experience with it. We did a project for [a battery company], and I worked at one of their recycling facilities in Baton Rouge, LA, where we set up perimeter monitoring. They were demolishing the site, and we were making sure no fugitive particles escaped the area. We worked on that project in 2012 or 2013, and I got very familiar with the processes during that.

So you entered the site to monitor the air quality for respiratory risks. What else had to happen to get the client back up and running?

Doug: I set up another particulate monitor that would send automatic updates to [the client] so they could keep an eye on any changes by the minute. It was just an extra safety precaution; the air never got to the point where, because of the smoke, we needed the employees to stay away. They did evacuate some employees during a night shift when there wasn’t a whole lot of activity. The wind had shifted, so they cleared employees out. No one was ever in real danger at that point, but they care about their employees’ safety. After about a week, the property was all clear of smoke, and we set them up on remote monitoring for anything that might flare up.

Did this project open the door for more projects with the client?

Doug: Yes! Any time they need help in the WV, PA, OH, KY area, they call me.

What did SWS do that was above and beyond?

Doug: It’s common to see people come in, take their measurements, and leave. But you’re not really there for measurements; you’re there to make people safe, and to help them feel safe. So I always make sure to talk to the people that I’m around, explain to them what’s going on and what happens next, answer any questions, and let them what the real potential for danger is versus the precautions we’re taking.


SWS does much more than environmental cleanup—we tailor an end-to-end program to our clients so that they can save time, lower costs, and move their businesses forward while keeping them out of harm’s way.

Contact us for a no-obligation site walk to see how you can simplify materials management and keep your business running efficiently, longer.



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