Tales of the 7th Battalion 7

Wayne Soap

The dangers of the 7th Battalion are many. Industrial operations ranging from dry cleaning facilities to oil refineries are some of the hazards confronting Firefighters in this part of the city. By far the most obnoxious place to get a run to is Wayne Soap. The soap making process involves rendering animal fat in huge vats. There is a constant stream of trucks bringing animal guts and meat packing waste into the plant. The smell of decaying flesh and overcooked lard is overwhelming when approaching this factory.

Three fire runs are imbedded in my memory. The first was the wash down of a truck that overturned near the plant. It was a huge open dump truck carrying over five tons of rotting sheep guts. The driver was not injured but the mess on the street was amazing. It was a hot summer day and the stench would make an ass licking skunk pass out. The air was swarming with huge horse flies and the neighborhood dogs and cats were having a field day. It was several hours before a loader and another truck arrived to pick up the mess. It was not a good day to be a part of Engine 33’s crew.

The second incident was tragic. The process of making soap covers the factory machinery with a greasy coat of slippery slime. To keep the equipment clean the plant uses a naphtha solvent to wash things down. It is a great cleansing agent but a volatile chemical that must be handled with care. Apparently a storage tank developed a leak. The escaping fumes found an ignition source and exploded. The blast killed two workers and injured many others. The back wall of the facility was completely blown out. I was the first Firefighter on the scene. The factory looked like the Eighth Air Force had bombed it. The first victim I encountered had been thrown into the parking lot by the explosion. He was in terrible shape. He was covered with a coating of grease and dirt. He looked like he had been tarred and feathered but the feathers were burned off. His eyes were bloodshot and he starred right through me when I spoke to him. I knew, under the coating of crud covering his body, his skin had been burned off. I left him for the EMS personnel who were just arriving and entered the building to search for other survivors. Surprisingly there was not much fire. I was not able to find any other victims. My running mates quickly extinguished the fire and assisted in placing the injured survivors into ambulances. I will always remember that poor man sitting in the parking lot with the look of death in his eyes.

The third memorable incident had a comical twist to it. I was riding Ladder 13 that day. We were responding to an automatic alarm in one of the processing areas of the factory. There was no fire but we had to check it out. I followed my Lieutenant into the building. We were walking in a line, single file, with other Firefighters. Near the door of the processing area was an amazing sight. One of the workers was sitting on the leg of a dead elephant that had been picked up from the zoo. He was eating a sandwich and enjoying his lunch. We told him to leave the area until we checked things out. We moved into the vat room where they rendered guts and animal waste. The slime on the floor was a half inch deep. The walls and machinery were also covered with the stinking goo. It was difficult to walk without losing one’s balance. Plant officials said it was a false alarm. I was glad to hear that. I had been holding my breath as a defense against the overpowering stench of the place. Several of my running mates were gagging. Near one of the vats was a shallow holding pool used for any overflow liquid. It was an evil looking brew that reeked of overcooked rotting flesh. As we passed by the vat one of our crew lost his balance and plunged head first into the slime pool. We retrieved him but declined from looking for his helmet in that thick stinking liquid. The slime was still dripping from his body when we got outside. He looked like he was covered in snot. He stunk so bad that those around him started throwing up. None of us wanted to be near him. Ladder 13 is a service rig with no tiller in the rear. We made our running mate sit at the far end of the rig on top of the ladder which was at least 40 feet from the passenger seating area of our truck. He sat that way as we returned to quarters. Needless to say all his clothes and fire gear had to be thrown away. It took several showers to scrub the obnoxious debris from his body. Several days later he was still cleaning the cracks and crevices of his torso. He told me he was lucky he didn’t swallow some of that stuff. He feared he might morph into something like the incredible hulk. That’s how it was running in the old 7th Battalion.

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