BURLINGTON, Mass. (WPRI) — A Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Burlington, Mass. was closed Friday after a chemical reaction killed an employee and sent 13 other people to the hospital.
The restaurant near the Burlington Mall was evacuated just after 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Fire officials say two substances – Super 8 and Scale Kleen – were combined while a worker was cleaning the kitchen floor, creating toxic fumes.
The restaurant’s general manager, Ryan Baldera, was trying to squeegee the chemicals out of the building when he was overcome by the fumes, according to officials. Baldera, 32, of Lawrence, was rushed to Lahey Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Acting Burlington Fire Chief Michael Patterson said the mixing of the chemicals was accidental.
“They didn’t know how to respond to it, they did the best they could, I’m not blaming these people for anything that happened,” Patterson said.
Eyewitness News has learned Baldera has ties to Southeastern Massachusetts.
Friends tell Eyewitness News Baldera has worked at the now-closed Overtime Bar & Grill in Lincoln.
A former patron at Overtime said he’d kept in touch with Baldera through social media – adding that Baldera leaves behind a wife and infant son.
“Heaven must have needed an angel, that’s how special he was,” he said in a statement to Eyewitness News. “We felt blessed by his presence. His passing affects many people from this area who feel this tremendous loss, especially since he just started raising a family.”
Friends also tell Eyewitness News Baldera used to work at Big Al’s Sports Bar in Pawtucket.
The Massachusetts Eye and Ear Communications Office – of which an immediate family member is employed – released a statement on behalf of Baldera’s family:
“Ryan was a beloved husband, father, son, brother, and cherished uncle, nephew, and son-in-law, to his close knit family and friends. While devastated at this unimaginable loss, we are so very proud that Ryan died while trying to protect his fellow employees and restaurant patrons. Our family asks for the public and the media to respect our privacy while we mourn Ryan’s untimely death.”Ryan Baldera’s family
Officials said 12 people checked themselves into Lahey Hospital and a 13th checked into a Lowell-area hospital following the incident.
“Signs and symptoms of those patients were difficulty breathing, runny and watery eyes, and shortness of breath,” Patterson said.
All of the patients, which included both employees and patrons of the restaurant, have since been released from the hospital, according to fire officials.
A hazmat team was brought in Thursday evening and while the restaurant has since been deemed safe, it remains closed as the incident is investigated.
Super 8 is a sanitizer widely used in the food-service industry but officials say it can be highly toxic if not used properly.
“The chemical definition or identification is sodium hypochlorite. What sodium hypochlorite is, is a high concentrate of chlorine,” Patterson explained.
A spokesperson for the chain released the following statement on Thursday:
“We are shocked and saddened to learn of this horrific accident at our franchise-owned sports bar and are working closely with our franchisee and the authorities while they conduct an investigation. Because the investigation is ongoing, we are unable to share any additional comment at this time.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is also investigating to find out whether there were any workplace safety violations associated with the incident.
The Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce has set up a memorial fund for Baldera’s family. Those who would like to contribute can send a check payable to the “Ryan Baldera Memorial Fund” to Cambridge Savings Bank, 214 Cambridge St., Burlington MA 01803.
A GoFundMe page has also been set up for the family.