Four Peoria firefighters injured in an explosion at an APS energy-storage facility in Surprise are in stable condition and on the road to recovery.
On Sunday, the Peoria Fire-Medical Department identified their injured as Engineer Justin Lopez — who was the most critical patient — Captain Hunter Clare, and Firefighters Matt Cottini and Jake Ciulla.
The latest conditions
Mr. Lopez sustained nose and skull fractures; a collapsed left lung; rib, right leg tibia and fibula fractures, with possible vascular issues. Doctors have performed two surgeries on that leg, and a third is in the works.
Mr. Clare sustained bilateral ankle fractures, a wrist fracture, multiple burns and lacerations. He also underwent two surgeries.
“His biggest thing is having both of his ankles injured,” Engineer Michael Selmer said Monday afternoon, adding Mr. Clare has a scapula injury that doctors are going to let heal on its own. “It’s going to take a long time for him to go through rehab and therapy to get back on the job.”
Mr. Cottini initially had lacerations and burns to the head and jaw, and a significant left knee injury. He was discharged Saturday evening but readmitted himself Sunday morning after experiencing severe headaches. A CT scan produced negative results but as of Monday afternoon he was waiting on a concussion consult before being released.
Mr. Ciulla had been released but had his father — who is also on the fire department — bring him to the hospital Sunday due to full body aches and pain. He was then re-discharged and is recovering at home.
The four were initially responding to reports of a possible lithium-ion battery fire around 6 p.m. Friday at the McMicken Energy Storage facility located near Grand Avenue and Deer Valley Road in Surprise.
Peoria’s Hazmat unit responded to the scene due to the Valley-wide mutual aid agreement. It was the closest available unit at the time the hazardous situation was called in.
Julie Moore, battalion chief for the Surprise Fire-Medical Department, said her agency has a Hazmat unit that was on another call. It arrived at the APS facility afterwards.
Mr. Selmer said the Peoria unit was just about to head into the facility after nearly two hours of taking meter readings from the outside. Then the explosion happened.
Mr. Selmer said the word “mayday” came through dispatch, although which agency used the word was not clear. He said it is a word that is almost never used until a dire situation arises.
Agencies from El Mirage, Glendale, Goodyear and Phoenix were also at the scene.
Mr. Lopez and Mr. Clare were airlifted while the other two were transported by ground.
At least 80 of Peoria’s firefighters were at the hospital until 11:30 p.m. Friday waiting for the latest updates on their comrades.
Surprise police said four Surprise firefighters were transported to the hospital for evaluation only.
Mr. Clare has 15 years of experience, Mr. Lopez 12.5 years, Mr. Cottini 12 years, and Mr. Ciulla 3 years. While the explosion was unexpected, Mr. Selmer said Mr. Clare had a sense of guilt over what transpired, due to being the captain.
“There’s still doors and everything blown off on the building,” Mr. Selmer said about the facility’s condition Monday afternoon.
3 similar facilities in Arizona
Lily Quezada, a spokeswoman for APS, said the company has three facilities that contain a grid-scale lithium-ion battery. They are in Surprise, the Sun City Festival area of north Buckeye, and the Tonto Basin area.
All three are offline as APS and other authorities investigate what happened in Surprise. In a statement, APS has attributed part of the incident to an equipment failure at the facility.
APS said a single 2-megawatt-per-hour battery can provide energy to 1,000 homes.
The battery is used to store energy that is generated from APS solar power plants, then distributes power to surrounding areas after sunset. APS allowed the media in February to tour the battery facility in the Sun City Festival of Buckeye.
Ms. Quezada said APS works together with agencies on best practices in handling issues with the lithium-ion batteries. Mr. Selmer said Peoria units had actually been out to APS’ facility near Loop 303 and Happy Valley Road sometime within the last two months for a large-scale training exercise concerning lithium-ion batteries.
The situation in Surprise has been a first for both APS and public safety officials as they continue to investigate the cause of the explosion.
“A collaborative investigation between Surprise Fire-Medical Department, APS and several other stakeholders is underway,” Ms. Moore said when asked about Surprise’s training regarding battery fires. “At this time, we do not have any information that can be released without jeopardizing the ongoing investigation.”