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Chicken-processing plant Fire

1991 September 3rd. USA, North Carolina, Hamlet, Imperial Food Products chicken-processing plant: 25 worker died in a fire; building was without fire alarms or sprinkler systems; many exit doors were locked to prevent employees from stealing

According to official reports, twenty-five (25) people died and another fourty-nine (49) were injuried as the result of afire in the Imperial chicken processing plant in Hamlet, North Carolina yesterday. Witnesses, at the scene, describedpanicked workers as screaming, "Let me out!....Let me out!", as they tried to kick open doors that were reportedly
padlocked by the plant management to prevent vandalism and theft. Footprint indentations were evident on the inside of at least one door, that was seen to be locked from the outside.

In the aftermath of the disaster, N.C. Asst. Commissioner of Labor Charles Jeffress, said that the eleven (11) year oldfood processing plant had not been subjected to state safety inspections due to a lack of inspectors in the state. Hestated that the Dept. of Labor primarily inspected buildings for which there had been complaints, and that none had been received in regard to the Imperial plant.

Hamlet Fire Chief David Fuller said that he couldn't confirm or deny that the fire exits were locked or blocked. Chief Fuller did confirm that several bodies were found near the exits and in a meat locker. A company spokesman said that as many as ninety (90) employees were present in the building when the fire started. The spokesman did admit that "certain doors" in the plant were locked "at certain times", but was reluctant to admit which doors. Witnesses described the fire as having started in a twenty-five (25) foot long fryer vat, which reportedly ignited at approximately 08:30 A.M.

More than one-hundred (100) emergency response and medical personnel were dispatched to the scene to assist with the search and rescue efforts. A majority of plant employees were transported to several area hospitals for treatment of burns, smoke inhalation, and stress related disorders. According to at least one witness, some apparently suffered traumatic injuries while attempting to escape the rapidly spreading blaze.

Emergency response expert, Clark Staten, of the Emergency Response & Research Institute in Chicago, IL. said of the blaze; "If the initial reports can be believed, this is an intolerable set of circumstances that should result in criminal charges being placed against those responsible for having the fire doors locked". "Our past experience with fires and fire deaths shows that we must insure an adequate number of open exits from any occupied building", he continued. "It's hard to believe, in today's day and age that any business owner or manager would be so insensitive to fire safety as to allow this sort of incident to happen", the veteran fire paramedic concluded

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