Firefighters respond to molten glass leak on AGC line being shut down

Jeff Bobo • Feb 6, 2018 at 9:30 PM

CHURCH HILL — If there’s one silver lining to the Monday night fire at the AGC Flat Glass plant in Church Hill, it’s that the line that caught fire was being taken down for a rebuild anyway.

And more importantly, the fire won’t affect construction of AGC’s new $40 million expansion or the 85 new jobs that the expansion will bring to Hawkins County.

Firefighters were dispatched to AGC at 10:46 p.m. Monday.

One employee suffered heat exhaustion and minor burns from the steam and was transported to Holston Valley Medical Center for treatment.

AGC Human Resources Manager Tom Segelhorst told the Times News that the plant’s No. 2 float line had just come down for a planned rebuild, and the tank was being drained of glass when a leak developed in another part of the tank.

“The glass leaked into an area that is designed and built for just such occurrences,” Segelhorst said. “AGC employees got the leak stopped, and local fire departments were called to protect the structure.”

Volunteer firefighters from the Carters Valley, Stanley Valley and Striggersville departments responded to the fire along with the Church Hill Rescue Squad, Hawkins County EMS, the Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency, Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office and Wings Air Rescue, which was called in on standby.

EMA Director Gary Murrell said that after authorities determined there were no serious injuries, and no one was missing, the top mission became keeping the containment walls around the furnace cool.

“There was several hundred tons of molten glass on fire in the furnace,” Murrell said. “The fire departments had to keep the containment walls cool where this furnace was located, and we had to spray it with water for several hours, or it was going to be detrimental to the plant. Something that hot can do a lot of damage.”

Murrell said there was a lot of steam and smoke, and there was a “big glow” inside the furnace room which plant officials said should be there.

“Representatives from the company said the containment wall did what it was supposed to, and we were there until about 3 a.m. this (Tuesday) morning trying to cool it down,” Murrell said. “They (firefighters) had a water shuttle coming from the front of the plant with tankers, and then they found another nearby hydrant. The EMA and Church Hill Rescue Squad supplied firefighters with air for the SCBAs (self-contained breathing apparatus). I think we and the Rescue Squad filled about 75 air bottles.

“You can imagine there were a lot of firefighters using a lot of air bottles there. They said it (the smoke and steam) was not good to breathe, and we had to make sure anybody who was in or around this had the SCBA equipment on.”

Segelhorst said AGC is grateful to the volunteer fire departments that responded along with EMS, the Rescue Squad, and Sheriff’s Office.

This was AGC’s second employee injury in the past four months. On Oct. 7, an employee was reportedly crushed by glass on a loading dock. AGC was fined $6,800 for TOSHA violations related to that accident.

Last month, AGC announced it would construct a $40 million, 100,000-square-foot expansion which should be completed by the end of 2018. The 85 new jobs that addition will create are to be filled over the next 3-5 years.

About 50 employees were being temporarily laid off while the existing line is refurbished, and they will be recalled.