Ill. chief plans to invoke 'spiller pays' ordinance to recoup Chemtool fire costs

Rockton Fire Chief Kirk Wilson, other area FD leaders seeking reimbursement from chemical company following the massive June 14 industrial blaze


Jeff Kolkey
Rockford Register Star, Ill.

ROCKTON, Ill. — Crews from the South Beloit Fire Department were second behind Rockton firefighters to attack the massive June 14 Chemtool fire.

Rockton firefighters already had a hose line deployed and were battling the industrial fire as they went in, South Beloit Chief Daniel Zerfass said. But the intensity of the fire built quickly and soon the incident commander ordered firefighters to get out.

The June 14 Chemtool fire cost the South Beloit Fire Department an estimated $5,000.
The June 14 Chemtool fire cost the South Beloit Fire Department an estimated $5,000. (Photo/Rockton Fire Protection District/Tim Olk)

"We left hose, nozzles we had out, supply lines," Zerfass said. "We just disconnected everything and took off because it was getting hairy."

Zerfass said the department lost an estimated $5,000 worth of equipment. He is still calculating how much fighting the fire cost South Beloit in terms of personnel.

Zerfass' crew was among the estimated 175 firefighters from 45 departments that battled the Chemtool fire. An estimated 150 homes within a one-mile radius of the plant were evacuated as the manufacturing plant went up in flames.

Now that the fire is out, fire department leaders are turning to look at how they might get reimbursed by the chemical company for the expenses they incurred from the fire.

Although typical mutual aid response doesn't allow fire departments to recoup such costs, Rockton Fire Protection District Chief Kirk Wilson said he intends to invoke the district's "spiller pays" ordinance.

It allows fire departments to recoup costs associated with cleanup or prevention of hazardous material spills.

Preliminary investigation results show the accidental fire started when a contractor inside of Chemtool operating a "scissor lift" likely struck a pipe carrying mineral oil. The pipe began showering equipment and the floor of the plant with oil before it ignited.

Wilson said he is still calculating the cost of the fire in terms of personnel and equipment loss. He did not have an estimate.

Wilson said Chemtool's insurance company is investigating the amount of loss to the company, which is expected to total millions of dollars. Wilson said he expects Chemtool's insurance to cover the firefighting expense.

"What we will do is take any equipment that was lost, man hours, things like that, and we will send that bill to Chemtool," Wilson said.

How area departments can obtain reimbursement and whether other departments can be reimbursed via Rockton Fire's ordinance is being investigated, said Rockford Fire Department Division Chief Matthew Knott said.

He said the city is also calculating its costs which stem from sending a specially trained hazardous materials crew to assist Rockton Fire.

"It's still pretty questionable, but certainly there are some reimbursement strategies being worked on under spiller pays and there are some local and state statutes that indicate that, so that would be reimbursable perhaps through Chemtool," Knott said.

Jeff Kolkey: jkolkey@rrstar.com; @jeffkolkey

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(c)2021 Rockford Register Star, Ill.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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