ROCKLAND, Maine — When the Rockland Fire Department learned at about 6 a.m. Sunday that there was a fire in the alcohol room at a major carrageenan processing plant at the harbor, officials feared the worst.
Four fire engines with about a dozen firefighters and three ambulances raced to the FMC BioPolymer manufacturing facility on Crockett’s Point.
Nearby Rockport sent two engines and about 10 firefighters, according to Assistant Chief Ken Elwell of the Rockland Fire Department.
But when they got into the building, they found that the company’s sprinkler system had activated, tamping down the fire and minimizing damage.
“It certainly had the potential to be catastrophic, because we were dealing with alcohol,” Elwell said. “Obviously, when we get into a building like that, we don’t know what we have until we get down in there.”
It appeared the fire started when an alcohol pump overheated, he said.
Thanks to the sprinkler system, it took crews only about an hour to make sure that the fire was out and to clear the scene.
FMC Corp. is a diversified chemical company with headquarters in Philadelphia. It employs about 5,000 people around the world and in 2010 posted annual sales of approximately $3.1 billion, according to its website.
In Rockland, workers extract carrageenan from seaweed in a process that begins with grinding and sieving the dried seaweed. After it is washed extensively, the seaweed undergoes a two-step extraction process to separate the carrageenan from the plant fiber. The carrageenan then is recovered in a process that can include isopropyl alcohol.
Elwell said company officials directly contacted the Rockland Fire Department when they found the fire. Additionally, FMC employees worked cooperatively with the Fire Department to extinguish the blaze.