A firefighter is in the intensive care unit in critical condition after a farm tractor leaked several tons of ammonia in Beach Park, leaving 36 others hospitalized, some with life-threatening injuries.
The Lake County Sheriff’s Office received a report of a possible vehicle fire at 4:25 a.m. Thursday near Green Bay Road & 29th Street in Beach Park.
Lake County Sheriff Sgt. Christopher Covelli said that a sheriff’s sergeant and sheriff’s deputy arrived on scene and found what appeared to be a cloud of smoke. As the two exited their squad cars, they were overcome with an airborne chemical, Covelli added.
“The Sergeant and Deputy retreated, as the chemical was overpowering. There were several victims at the scene who were rescued by initial responding fire personnel,” Covelli said.
Covelli said that the tractor was towing a pair of two-ton containers holding anhydrous ammonia. The containers leaked as the tractor was traveling on Green Bay Road in the area of 29th Street, which caused toxic plumes of the chemical to be released into the air.
The tractor was not involved in a crash with a car, as it was initially believed, Covelli said.
More than 25 ambulances and numerous hazmat teams were called to the scene. More than 20 additional police officers were also called to assist in closing a 1-mile perimeter in the area.
Beach Park residents within a one-mile radius were asked to shelter in place, keep all windows closed and turn off HVAC systems due to the toxic chemical in the air.
Thursday afternoon authorities said that 37 people, including 11 firefighters and three police officers, were transported to area hospitals after breathing in the toxic fumes.
Seven of the people hospitalized suffered life-threatening injuries. Most of the 11 firefighters have since been released from the hospital except for a Newport Township firefighter, who is intubated in the intensive care unit and in critical condition, Covelli said.
The three police officers, which included the sheriff’s sergeant, sheriff’s deputy and a Zion police officer, have since been released from the hospital.
Around 9:30 a.m., the shelter in place request was lifted, Covelli said. Law enforcement and fire personnel went door-to-door to check on residents to make sure they were safe and not in medical distress.
Schools in the area were closed Thursday due to the leak. At least 140 emergency personnel responded to the scene.
“I wish to take a brief moment and commend all of our Lake County Sheriff’s Deputies, police officers from nearly twenty area police departments, and all of the firefighters who risked their lives today to help others. You are an amazing group of men and women,” Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg said.
“To those who remain in the hospital, the men and women of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office wish you a fast recovery,” he added.