The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 8, 2013

Explosion triggers fire

Firefighters limit damage at North American Hoganas

Frank Sojak

JOHNSTOWN — Four workers escaped injury when a malfunctioning electric furnace exploded around 6:10 p.m. Monday at the North American Hoganas plant on Bridge Street in Moxham.

The explosion caused a massive fire in the furnace room, located on the third floor of the building that manufactures powdered metals, said Johnstown fire Chief Anthony Kovacic.

He said his firefighters did a great job of putting the flames out quickly.

The workers helped firefighters by making sure that every worker was accounted for and letting responders know the type of materials with which they had to contend, he said.

Rick Heinrich said he was operating the furnace and doing a “break-in” of a new liner when the accident took place. Heinrich said they were melting raw materials, and the operation seemed to be going all right when the furnace “kicked out a ground.”

Heinrich said that was a warning that something was wrong. When flames started shooting

from the furnace, he said he told everybody to get out.

Sterling Larue, another worker in the furnace room, said all of the employees and the supervisors made sure that everyone got out safely.

“I appreciate that,” he said, adding that the safety training they have received works.

John Mirkovich, melting supervisor for the furnace, was at home when the accident happened but lives just a short distance away and was there in minutes.

“I ran to the tower to see if the workers were still there,” he said. “I saw Rick and he told me that everyone was out and accounted for.”

Mirkovich said firefighters did a great job. They made sure everyone was accounted for, asked what hazards were in the building, and then made a plan to fight the fire, he said.

Avinash Gore, president and chief executive officer of North American Hoganas, said they put a new liner in the furnace five days ago.

It is a sensitive time for the furnace until workers can season it to bring it into production, he said.

Starting today, workers will start to assess the damage and then decide what repairs are needed.

Workers also will study the lining to determine what went wrong and how they can eliminate the problem, he said.

The company prides itself on its safety practices, Gore said, adding that the last accident at the plant took place in December 1994, when the plant was owned by SCM Metals Products. The workers can take credit for the excellent safety record because they take their training seriously, he said.

Gore said the company is pleased with the response of emergency responders.

Having worked on five continents, Gore said he rates the emergency services as among the best he has seen.

Gore said that the plant will continue operations at its others buildings at the sprawling Bridge Street plant.

Depending on how long it takes to make repairs to the damaged furnace, workers may be transferred to do the same work at its Hollsopple plant, he said.


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