The roof of the Salem wastewater treatment plant power building sustained some damage Tuesday afternoon when it caught fire during testing of the emergency generator.
Capt. Shawn Mesler of the Salem Fire Department said the cause of the fire was undetermined, but it appeared the heat from the exhaust of the generator running was what caught the roof on fire.
He said it was very fortunate that workers at the treatment plant saw the smoke when they did.
Salem firefighters further inspect the roof on the power building at the city’s wastewater treatment plant on Pennsylvania Avenue after it caught fire Tuesday afternoon. Workers had been testing the plant’s generator and noticed the roof smoldering while preparing to shut down the generator. The cause was undetermined, with no damage to the generator itself or the plant’s power source. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)
Plant manager Jeff Zimmerman said they were running a test on the generator and were getting ready to shut it down when they noticed smoke and then saw flames where the exhaust goes to the roof. They used fire extinguishers to put out the fire, but called the fire department to make sure they got it all.
Mesler said they could see the smoke as they were pulling up. He noted the generator was not on fire, but the rubber roofing material around the exhaust was burning and they had visible fire on the roof. They cut all the rubber roofing and insulation away that was smoldering and put out the rest of the fire.
Zimmerman explained that the generator is used when the power goes out, but it doesn't happen very often.
City Utilities Superintendent Don Weingart said the tests on the generator are done every month and the test this time lasted a couple of hours. He said the insulated exhaust system is close to the edge of the roof.
Both he and Zimmerman said they'll have to repair or replace the roof, which was installed in 1986. When asked what might have happened if the fire went unchecked, Weingart said there was no problem as long as the electric stayed on. He also said the building does not have a lot of combustible material inside and the generator is housed in a separate compartment of the building from the electrical transformer, partitioned by a concrete wall.
Until the roof can be fixed, they'll have a temporary cover to shelter the generator room, he said. Once they get the fire report, he said they'll know more. The building is insured.
Mesler gave a rough estimate of $5,000 for the damage.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org