- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A special team of arson and explosives experts has been dispatched by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to East Joliet, Ill., to determine the cause of a fire Sunday at a galvanizing plant — the largest in the U.S. and the second largest in the world — that caused more than $20 million in damage.

The agency’s National Response Team (NRT) is investigating the blaze at the AZZ Galvanizing Plant building, where the early morning fire destroyed the 200,000-square-foot building. A team of two dozen agents and specialists arrived Monday and began their investigation immediately.

“ATF is investigating this fire jointly with our partners, the East Joliet Fire Department, the Illinois state fire marshal, the Illinois EPA, and the Will County EMA hazardous material technicians with a goal of determining the origin and cause of this fire,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Andrew Traver, who heads the agency’s Chicago field division.

The building was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived shortly after 1:30 a.m. Sunday, law enforcement authorities said, and it took five hours and six fire departments to get the fire under control. No injuries were reported.

The AZZ Galvanizing Plant employed 64 people who galvanized steel at the factory.

The NRT was formed in February 1978 and — at the request of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies — investigates “significant fire and explosive incidents.” Its primary mission is to concentrate ATF explosives and fire investigative resources and expertise on those incidents and investigations that are “clearly beyond the resources, capabilities and expertise of other federal, state and local agencies or ATF field divisions.”

It provides an immediate and sustained nationwide response capability to such situations with state-of-the-art equipment and the most qualified ATF personnel available.

Working in conjunction with other investigators to reconstruct the scene, the NRT identifies the seat of the blast or origin of the fire and determines its cause. In the case of bombings and arsons, NRT members gather evidence to support criminal prosecutions.

The NRT is composed of veteran agents, including certified explosives specialists, certified fire investigators, forensic mappers, accelerant and explosives detection canines, explosives enforcement officers, fire protection engineers, electrical engineers, and forensic chemists. NRT agents are explosives and fire investigators trained to work numerous fire and explosives scenes.

To date, there have been 725 NRT activations. In fiscal 2011, the NRT responded to 11 incidents. Past NRT activations include the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001; the Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic bombing in 1998; the Atlanta Olympics bombing in 1996; the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995; and the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

Law enforcement authorities said the AZZ Galvanizing Plant building collapsed and burned overnight, creating safety concerns so dangerous that firefighters never entered the building.

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