Wegmans Warehouse Freon Leak
post-incident analysis created by GFD Officers
Rochester , NY 14624
We responded 1500 Brooks Ave, driveway B for a report of a high Freon alarm (the high Freon alarm activates at 1000ppm). We do not respond there for low Freon alarms. Security met us at the end of the driveway and led us to the exit to the pit. They informed us that the high Freon alarm activated in a compressor room and that the building had been evacuated.
We donned SCBA and proceeded to the compressor room which is just up the stairs on the right inside the exit to the pit. We placed our meter around the outside of the compressor room door. We got readings on our gas meter of 50% LEL. While this is not accurate because our meters are calibrated for natural gas, it did confirm there was a leak. At this point, we withdrew from the area, updated dispatch and started 4c45. 4c45 called a level 0 hazmat. We confirmed with security that the building was evacuated and that maintenance was on the way.
When the maintenance rep (Mike) arrived, he informed us that he can shut down the compressors (in room with the leak) remotely from another office on the other side of the building or from a take home laptop. I asked Mike to shut down the compressors remotely, while we entered the room across from the compressor room to obtain his Scott air pack. (Wegmans maintenance has several air packs, kept in the office across from the compressor room, for these instances).
The maintenance rep returned from the remote shut off room and we obtained his air pack. He informed us that the compressors had already been shut off by the other maintenance guy via his laptop. We all donned SCBA and entered the compressor room with Mike. Mike carried his refrigerant meter. He confirmed a leak from a gasket in a 2 1/2” line with readings of between 6000-7000ppm. (Here is the NIOSH permissible exposure limit for reference: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npg/npgd0192.html). Our meter showed the oxygen level at 18.5% in the room.
The leak was confined almost exclusively to the compressor room: readings just outside the compressor room door were 120ppm and readings in the area immediately surrounding the compressor room were 15ppm.
Mike shut down the refrigerant line, thereby isolating the leak. He turned on the ventilation fan system in the room to evacuate the air in the room. The hazmat rep requested that we wait until the readings fall below 500ppm before we turn the situation over to maintenance. Once the readings were at 500, maintenance restarted the other compressors which were not involved in the leak. We waited to ensure that readings did not climb back up, then went back into service. The entire incident took 2 hours.
Wegmans is in the process of switching all their refrigerant over to anhydrous ammonia, so they are investing minimally into the Freon infrastructure. Chief Hardy is working with Wegmans to put into place systems to expedite FD responses for Freon leaks in the future.
The ERG Guide for Freon is 126. The primary hazard from it is oxygen displacement. It is Wegmans policy to have their maintenance staff enter the room in street clothes. Wegmans policy is for their maintenance staff to don SBCA above 600ppm.