Scripps Blast Boosts Plan for Survey of Hazards

Times Staff Writer

Fearful that the chemical explosion that critically burned an employee at Scripps Ranch Industrial Park could all too easily recur, San Diego fire officials are seeking City Council approval of a program that would survey and inspect companies using hazardous materials.

Battalion Chief Mike Burner said Sunday that after two years of negotiations, a task force of fire officials, representatives of the San Diego business community and environmental leaders has concluded that the program is necessary to "ensure the various high-tech firms that are handling these materials are doing so safely and properly."

Burner said the program is imperative to help the department keep tabs on the use of hazardous materials by San Diego's burgeoning high-tech industry.

"With the number of high-tech businesses using hazardous materials in San Diego increasing every day, we feel it's important for us to make sure companies are operating in as safe an environment as possible," Burner said. "If we take these preventive measures, everyone will be better off and we can keep control of potentially dangerous situations."

The announcement comes on the heels of Friday's explosion at Fluid Systems, a division of UOP Inc., which left employee John Goik, 29, with third-degree burns over 95% of his body. The explosion also forced the evacuation of numerous industrial buildings and two schools near the plant and sent 24 others to the hospital for treatment of eye irritations and respiratory problems.

Burner said the first stage of the program would involve a survey of 5,500 San Diego companies believed to be using toxic chemicals. Then, in January, a team of eight firefighters would inspect the firms to determine whether they are storing and using the hazardous materials safely.

"We feel that the businesses are probably trying to provide as safe a working environment as possible, but we just want to make sure," Burner said. "We want to catch any oversights that might be in violation of the uniform fire code."

The program is expected to be self-supporting because each company would pay for its own inspection. Burner said the task force proposal is the first he knows of to recommend using firefighters rather than fire prevention officials to do the inspections. This approach would be more efficient and save money, Burner said.

The proposal will go before the City Council's Public Services and Safety Committee April 17 and then on to the full council for final approval.

Goik, the victim of Friday's explosion, remained in critical condition at UC San Diego Medical Center Sunday night, a hospital spokeswoman said.

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