Hot pepper cooking leads to HAZMAT evacuation of high-rise building

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHAM) – Emergency crews were called to a high-rise apartment building in Rochester Monday after someone microwaved a hot pepper.

Initial reports came in around 10:20 a.m. for a HAZMAT situation at the building on Van Auker Street near Atkinson Street.



“I went to go get my coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts and then I’m noticing the fire trucks,” said Irmarie Chevrony. She’s lived there for four years with her two young sons. She said fire trucks are nothing unusual at her place, but the HAZMAT crews being there was.

According to tenants in the James A. Dobson Building, one of the tenants was cooking some sort of hot pepper in an apartment. Firefighters said people had a hard time breathing as a result of the chemical capsaicin being released during the microwave cooking process. They likened it to a homemade pepper spray.

“It seems whatever kind of pepper they were using, once it’s aerosolized, if you’ve ever gotten pepper in your eyes, you know how hard it can be on your system,” said Lt. Cieslinski.



Once fire crews were inside the apartment, they found a 55-gallon sealed drum in an apartment. Cieslinski said, in a 150-apartment building, it was cause for concern.

“That’s pretty unusual to find in an apartment complex, so we have to take the utmost cautions to make sure nobody is going to be adversely affected until we can investigate further what was in the drum,” Cieslinski said.

The drum was later determined to be a container to ship donated clothes to Africa and the peppers deemed the cause of the evacuation.

“I do not know what kind of pepper it was, but clearly spicy enough to affect the people in the hallway,” said Cieslinski.

No one was injured. Tenants were allowed back inside shortly after noon.


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