Evacuation as fire flattens T&T plastic firm

(Trinidad Guardian) Thick black smoke formed a canvas over sections of the Trincity Industrial Estate on Tuesday as a fire flattened Lots 31 and 32 of manufacturing company Thermoplas Limited, located on Tissue Drive. Hundreds of people in neighbouring warehouses and factories were evacuated and police cordoned off the area. There were no reports of injuries. Thermoplas manufactures foam products, food packaging materials and plastic bags. Lot 30, also a Thermoplas building, suffered damage but not as severe as the others. The company was established in 2003 by Neil Ramtahalsingh who estimated his losses as “millions.” Close to 75 people were left jobless. According to acting Chief Fire Officer, of the T&T Fire Service, Nayar Rampersad, the fire started around 9.30 am and was caused by a malfunctioning machine in the factory area. The female employee who was operating it refused to speak to the media saying: “I was told not to speak to anyone.”

Firemen prepare to battle with yesterday’s fire which destroyed Thermoplas Limited on Tissue Drive, Trincity Industrial Estate. Inset: Businessman Neil Ramtahalsingh at the scene of yesterday’s fire. (Trinidad Guardian photo)

The black smoke pervaded the air for over four hours as scores of fire officers tried to contain the fire. Close to 75 fire officers were positioned at all points of the buildings. The wall to the back of the building had to be bulldozed to give way to fire officers. A statement from the Office of Disaster and Preparedness Management (ODPM) ,issued at 3.15 pm on Tuesday, said the fire was contained but not fully extinguished and damping down operations were ongoing. Rampersad said fire officers from the Tunapuna Fire Station responded immediately. He said: “This was an incident, because of the material involved, would have required a lot of foam to extinguish. “It was polystyrene (one of the most widely used plastics) which is highly flammable so that we had a major appliance responding from Piarco with foam and upon arrival we were able to contain the fire on two of the premises belonging to Thermoplast.”

Rampersad said further assistance was requested from the Chaguanas, Arima and Port-of-Spain Fire Stations. He said his men were able to prevent the fire from spreading to GM Warehousing, next to Thermoplas, which carried large volumes of alcohol and other combustible products. Other companies on Tissue Drive are The House of Marketing and Commercial Representations. Rampersad said: “The fire was well contained but what was challenging for us was the generation of a lot of thick, black smoke and we had to use breathing apparatus and foam to extinguish the fire. “But this was an incident that required a sustained cooling attack because from the time we stop applying water, because of the heat generated, the material re-ignites so that we needed to continue to apply water to keep it cool in order to prevent the material from re-igniting.”

Preliminary investigations revealed there was an accumulation of polystyrene and scrap materials which would have ignited the malfunctioning machine. Rampersad said employees used domestic fire-fighting apparatus but because of the massive volume of smoke “they became scared and ran away.” He also said losses could amount to “millions.” Ramtahalsingh, who spoke to the media close to 2 pm yesterday, said his losses could run into millions of dollars and could not state his next step. He said: “It is way too early to make an assessment. I have no plans.” He said recently he had bought new equipment which was lost in the blaze. He refused to state the cost. Ramtahalsingh said he had been in the plastic- manufacturing business for 25 years and in 2001, his former company, Plasti Pack, experienced a smaller fire. He said fire officers were “trying their best” and the employees were told they would be contacted. The Water and Sewerage Authority, the ODPM and the TTFS aerial appliance and its major tender provided assistance.

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