Here are notes from the Rochester Fire Department on the Kemps fire Saturday:
Some additional information on this unusual and complex fire 1/25/2014 6:37 PM through 11:15 PM
* This fire occurred in the Kemps Ice Cream plant
* An outside contractor hired to perform work was present
* The fire was in the ice cream production area's "flash-freezer"
* The ice cream production area is a factory-sized very large, very tall, multi-level room built like a freezer with no openings, few doors and many freezer lines containing refrigerant with large fans to circulate the cold air
* A conveyor belt system is in this freezer area
* Newly mixed ice cream is poured into the containers for sale and moves along the conveyor system from one level to the next in order to quick-freeze the product. The conveyor system is quite long but it is compact because it has many switch-backs as it crisscrosses and angles upwards inside the freezer for efficient use of space and the energy required to maintain freezing temperatures. Wooden scaffolding rises up inside the multi level freezer along side the conveyor to allow workers to maintain the conveyor system
* The air temperature is designed to be maintained at -40F
* The firefighters' job in this case was made extremely difficult by the fact this was in a factory designed to be freezing:
* The air temperature in the freezer was -40F--firefighters had to be relieved a number of times because of water freezing on their facepieces and firefighting coats, pants and gloves. Many had over a half of inch of ice covering them when they exited which is like encasing them in a layer of inflexible plastic.
* The smoke generated by the fire is what firefighters call "cold smoke". Usually cold smoke is found inside a building but quite some distance from the fire so it has had a chance to cool. In this case the extreme coldness of the air made the smoke cold almost instantaneously, after all the manufacturing process is called flash freezing. Cold smoke does not rise, it tends to be extraordinarily dense and heavy so it falls to floor level. In this case the cold smoke from the fire filled the entire freezer room making it impossible to see. Firefighters used a search rope to crawl through the room trying to find the fire with their infra red thermal imaging camera that can see heat. They needed the search rope to be able to find their way back out because of the huge room with so many corners and machinery creating a tremendous and risky maze in the no visibility conditions. The other problem with the cold smoke is it doesn't leave a building the way smoke usually exits. Just like in a chimney, firefighters rely on the property of smoke rising and open doors and windows to allow smoke out the upper levels while cooler fresh air comes in with the assistance of fans used by firefighters. That doesn't work when the smoke is in a freezer.
* The location of the flash freezer was deep inside the plant. Firefighters had to extend their hose lines in order to get their nozzles to the fire.
* The plant and the freezer were an actual labyrinth making navigation in the cold smoke extremely difficult. Even in clear visibility, the plant is a challenging maze. Plant employees could not help the firefighters find their way around inside the plant because the conditions were just too dangerous due to the smoke.
* Being a freezer, it was designed to have minimal openings and thick insulated walls and ceilings. The minimal openings meant smoke was trapped inside the freezer with no way out; a complex system of firefighting vent fans was put into operation by the firefighters in order to direct the smoke out of the freezer, down corridors and out doors and hatches to the outside
* At one point, firefighters became extremely concerned when they found another fire inside the plant remote from where the fire was first reported. They soon recognized that the conveyor system had provided a means for the fire to move throughout the massive freezer area. Burning material had traveled along the conveyor. Firefighters literally had to disassemble the rubber belt conveyor system by hand looking for lingering material that was still burning.
* The fire was successfully extinguished in the end.
* The firefighters knew they were going to be exposed to arctic temperatures and dangerous windchills conditions this weekend, but they had no idea it was going to be indoors!
* Damage may range into the many hundreds of thousands of dollars when the shut down of the production line and plant as well as all the lost ice cream inside the plant is added in. No actual loss figure was available at the time.
Deputy Chief Steven Belau
Rochester Fire Department