People powdered when suppression system fails at N.H. station

"It looked like a giant bag of flour went off," a firefighter noted

Foster's Daily Democrat

ROCHESTER. N.H. — The Cumberland Farms on Knight Street closed early Monday evening after a fire suppression system malfunctioned causing white powder to pour down on several people pumping gas.

The powder, which resembles baking soda, discharged from the canopy that covers the gas pumps, around 5:30 p.m.

“It was like a giant bag of flour went off,” said Rochester firefighter Jason Morales, who was at the scene briefly after the incident. “Those cars were covered.”

Police Detective Sgt. Anthony Deluca, who while off-duty was driving in the area shortly after the incident, said he saw several people shaking the powder from their clothes and hair. He said that about a quarter-inch layer of powder was covering the cars, some of which had the windows open.

Deluca recalled seeing about 10 people and six vehicles covered in powder as he drove to Walgreens early Monday evening.

Meanwhile, the intersection of Columbus Avenue and South Main Street appeared foggy due to the powder, making it difficult to drive, Deluca said.

Fire Capt. Mark Avery said an ambulance from Frisbie Memorial Hospital responded to the scene, and firefighters were on hand in case anyone had medical complications or trouble breathing; however, no one reported medical complaints or injuries as of Monday night.

Avery said the fire suppression powder is not hazardous, though people with upper respiratory problems should not have too much exposure to it.

“It's basically baking soda,” he said.

Those who were covered in the powder on Monday were told to seek medical help if they begin experiencing medical problems, said Avery. He said they were also told by Cumberland Farms officials to wash their affected vehicles as soon as possible, and to not turn on their heating or ventilation systems, as the powder would be drawn into the passenger compartment from the outside.

Avery said Monday he didn't know whether Cumberland Farms would reimburse residents for any medical care or car washes associated with the incident. He said Cumberland Farms personnel recorded the names of those who were affected.

According to Avery, the incident occurred as workers from a Massachusetts company were repairing the fire suppression system, which had a damaged part.

The Cumberland Farms, at the intersection of Columbus Avenue and South Main Street, was closed for the rest of the evening Monday after the incident, and the store is likely to reopen this morning. According to Avery, Cumberland Farms can only function as a full-service gas station after the fire marshal gives approval to the repaired fire suppression system.

Avery said Cumberland Farms brought in a vacuum truck to clean up the powder on Monday evening.

The store supervisor on Monday night did not comment on the incident.

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