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Firefighters who responded to Cranston chemical fire honored

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) -- A group of firefighters who responded to a chemical fire inside a metal plating company in Cranston last month were honored for their heroic efforts at Monday's City Council meeting.

Emergency crews from across the state responded to ProSys Finishing Technologies on Elmwood Avenue in January, when a report of a fire turned into a hazmat situation, sending 12 firefighters and two first responders to the hospital.

"It was scary. One of the firefighters that went in there was flush, one of the firefighters went down because he couldn't breathe," Cranston Mayor Allan Fung recalled.

Fung was there the night the fire broke out. Cranston Fire Chief William McKenna said the situation turned dangerous when the chemicals started to melt firefighters' gear as they entered the building.

"Their rubberized gear, their boots were starting to melt," McKenna said.

Cranston Deputy Fire Chief Paul Valletta, who is one of the firefighters being evaluated for exposure symptoms, said they may never know the precise cocktail of chemicals they were dealing with that night.

"It was highly flammable, highly corrosive, high oxidizers," Valletta said. "But other than that I don't think we'll ever know the specific chemicals that we were exposed to."

Valletta is one of a handful of firefighters who remain out of work due to a chronic cough and shortness of breath from battling the chemical fire. A week later, 20 firefighters were still experiencing symptoms, and while most have recovered, there are still four or five that remain unable to work.

The men and women who responded to the fire were commended for their work Monday night at City Hall.

"The city clearly stands proud of their efforts in ensuring that no one was seriously injured," Fung said.

"I think this is a special one because we've now learned what was in that building, and we've now learned that if we hadn't gotten in there and did what we did, the words being used by the chemical company that's cleaning up said, 'If that thing had gone it would have been beyond catastrophic,'" Valletta added.

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