Palo Alto: Fire quickly snuffed out at Communication & Power Industry

Electric fire confined to a testing cabinet; no hazardous materials released

Palo Alto fire officials are investigating a fire that occurred Thursday afternoon at Communication & Power Industry (CPI), a Hansen Way manufacturer whose operations the city is in the process of phasing out.

Firefighters said the fire took place in Building 2, the main building where the company stores hazardous materials and where manufacturing takes place. It was reported at about 1:37 p.m., though by the time firefighters arrived at 1:41 p.m., CPI employees had extinguished it.

No hazardous materials were released, according to the fire department.

Fire inspectors were investigating the fire and the overall conditions at Building 2 on Thursday afternoon. According to a statement from the department, the fire occurred in a magnetic testing cabinet where frayed electric wires heated hydraulic oils in the bottom of the pan in the cabinet.

The fire was contained to the inside of the cabinet, fire officials said.

The Thursday incident occurred less than two months after the City Council voted to begin the amortization process for CPI, a manufacturer of microwave and radio-frequency equipment. The vote came after years of lobbying from Barron Park residents who have long maintained that the hazardous materials used by CPI endanger the lives of people who live in the neighborhood.

The company had three accidents between 2005 and 2008, a case in 2005 in which nitric acid was released into the air and two chemical spills that occurred in March and May of 2008. Since then, the company has reduced the amount of hazardous chemicals used at the site and installed new "backup safety systems," the company's president Bob Fickett told the City Council on Oct. 6, before the vote to phase out the company.

Fickett also noted at that meeting that in the company's 50 years at the site, not a single resident or employee has been harmed by the plating shop's operations.

"We take the health and safety of our employees and the community very seriously," he said.

An analysis commissioned by the city found that while a hazardous event stemming from CPI's operations is very unlikely, it's not impossible. A major earthquake that ruptures tanks, prompting the mixing of chemicals, could release hydrogen cyanide that would harm residents up to 616 feet from the plating shop, the study concluded.

Related content:

Residents question chemical-hazards report for CPI

New zoning law targets Palo Alto plating shops

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Safety-Comes-First
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2014 at 11:56 am

While I don’t have any problem with CPI staying at its current location, I do have a bit of a problem with their not conducting their affairs so that the public interests are not impacted. So, I am somewhat concerned about CPI’s allowing this unsafe condition to exist.

Without any better reporting on this incident, we don’t know how long the wires that caused the fire have been frayed. It’s possible that CPI doesn’t know either—particularly if they have no regularly scheduled safety inspections.

We also don’t really know what kind of inspections the Palo Alto Fire Department offers these sorts of companies. As a resident, it would be comforting to know that safety inspections are on-going in all companies where chemicals/toxic materials are used/stored. And give the hysteria generated by the neighbors over the existence of this facility near the Barron Park residential area—having the local Fire Department actually inspecting them periodically would be comforting, providing the Fire Department were doing a reasonable job.

Safety inspections are easily implemented with check-lists, which provide the inspectors with as complete a set of problem areas in the plant that need constant oversight. If CPI has not been conducting these inspections frequently—then it’s time that they do, no matter where their plant is located.

3 people like this
Posted by The Omen
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 21, 2014 at 8:37 pm

This was just more writing on the wall. Close this place down before there is a mega-disaster that claims lives.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Nationally renowned Indian restaurant expanding to Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 3 comments | 2,849 views

Summer travel: Is anything changing?
By Sherry Listgarten | 14 comments | 1,276 views

Premarital and Couples: "Our Deepest Fear" by Marianne Williamson
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,054 views

Cap On? Cap Off? Recycling Bottles is Confusing
By Laura Stec | 20 comments | 928 views

Swimming with the kids
By Cheryl Bac | 2 comments | 687 views