Chemical reaction puts local businessman in hospital
A man was injured while working with dry-cleaning chemicals at Cloquet Laundromat Thursday and ended up in a Duluth hospital after inhaling some of the fumes. During the 911 call, the dispatcher said a woman reported hearing a loud bang when it happened, and a man sounding like he was in pain.
Cloquet Area Fire District firefighters and paramedics responded to the call about suspected chemical burns. According to CAFD Chief Kevin Schroeder, two chemicals inadvertently got mixed together and created a “violent” chemical reaction which then created a “fume cloud” in the work area. The chemicals also bubbled up and some splashed on a man, who the Pine Journal learned was Cloquet Laundromat owner Les Hovis.
“He did all the right things,” Schroeder said, noting that the victim immediately took off the contaminated clothing and washed off his skin.
“Our guys took over from there and transported him [via ambulance] to the hospital, where he was decontaminated further,” he added. The accident victim was later transferred to St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth for possible respiratory issues.
A St. Luke’s spokesperson confirmed Hovis was on the patient list but said she could not give a condition report. A laundry employee said Hovis was doing well on Tuesday and noted it was “business as usual” at the popular laundromat on the back side of Cloquet’s famous Frank Lloyd Wright gas station.
Schroeder said things were back to normal at the laundromat pretty quickly. Once CAFD firefighters secured the building and identified the chemicals involved, they turned off the all chemical valves that were open — to ensure that no unexpected reactions took place or a third component was added to the initial reaction — and ventilated the building.
“The reaction was such that once it was done [over], it was safe,” Schroeder said. “We got lucky there. We didn’t have to bring in any other resources from the State. It just kind of happened and then it stopped.”
CAFD responded with several vehicles, including its Heavy Rescue Unit, which is designed and equipped to handle confined space emergencies (such as auto accidents) as well as water rescues and industrial accidents.
“We have monitoring equipment on that vehicle, which allows us to monitor for different chemicals in the air,” Schroeder explained.
Schroeder said the chemical reaction was confined to one area of the business and no one else (or their laundry) was injured or damaged.
CAFD officials were on the scene for about an hour Thursday morning.