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Twenty firefighters treated after Cranston chemical fire

A three-alarm chemical fire at a Cranston business sent at least 14 firefighters to the hospital Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. (WJAR)

Twenty firefighters are being treated for chemical exposure following a chemical fire in Cranston and seven of them are too sick to work, NBC 10 News learned Tuesday.

Fourteen firefighters were first hospitalized immediately following the fire at Prosys Finishing Technologies on January 29.

Deputy Chief Paul Valletta, who also serves at the Firefighters Union President, said more firefighteres, including himself, are beginning to experience symptoms of chemical exposure.

"Most of the people have a chronic cough and most of them have shortness of breath," Valletta said. "Most of them have vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, all signs of chemical exposure."

Valletta said no one in the building called 911 or knew there was a fire at the Elmwood Avenue building, adding that his crews didn't know what they were getting into.

"Even an EHS facility, a facility with chemicals, you wouldn’t get off the truck in Class A suits," Valletta said. "You get off in your firefighting gear. First, we had no idea there was a fire. We also had no idea it was the chemical room that was on fire."

The chemicals soon took a toll on firefighters. Valletta said one alerted him when he exited the building.

"He said, 'Chief, my feet and my hands are burning through my boots and my gloves,' so we took off his boots and gloves," Valletta said. "His hands, they looked like the hulk. They were completely green.”

Firefighters immediately evacuated the building after they put the fire out.

Valletta said things quickly turned grim for some of the firefighters.

"A couple of firefighters came out and went down to one knee," Valletta said. "One firefighter came out and went right down."

More than 80 chemicals were stored in the room where the fire broke out. Valletta said some were labeled and some were not.

"They’ve got strong caustics in there, they’ve got acid in there, things that really do a number on your body," he said. "The chemical company used the words, 'it would have been beyond catastrophic,' that was their words, if firefighters didn’t get in there and knock this fire down."

Some of the firefighting gear was contaminated so badly, it had to be left in bags at the scene.

"When they went back and opened the bags two days later, that gear had crystallized," Valletta said. "So, we have no idea what we’re dealing with here."

Now, about 20 firefighters are being treated and monitored for chemical exposure, including the first responders who transported the first sick firefighter to the hospital.

Valletta said firefighters may never know exactly what they were exposed to.

"We know we’re contaminated, we know we’re sick, but should we be doing something now for our membership medically, instead of just letting them lay at home and lay in bed," he said.

The City of Cranston is making sure every firefighter has access to medical assistance.

"Everything we need, no questions asked, it’s just done," Valletta said.

The fire department is also monitoring the firefighters by personally calling and checking in on them daily.

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