Deadly Chemical Incident at Buffalo Wild Wings: What We Know

One Buffalo Wild Wings employee was overcome by fumes of a cleaning agent and died later at a hospital

An investigation is underway after an employee at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Burlington, Massachusetts died Thursday when a chemical incident occurred at the restaurant.

Crews continued to clean up the hazardous mess overnight as authorities investigated the exact cause of the worker's death.  

Here’s what to know:

The Hazmat Incident 

Firefighters responded to the restaurant at about 5:30 p.m. Thursday for a report of a chemical reaction in the kitchen.

They learned an employee was cleaning the restaurant’s floor with Super 8, a common sanitation product, when patrons began to feel ill. Upon arrival, emergency responders found an employee who reported feeling nauseous after being exposed to the fumes from the cleaning agent.

The employee was trying to squeegee the substance out of the restaurant when he was overcome by the fumes, according to Interim Burlington Fire Chief Michael Patterson. He was taken to Lahey Hospital in serious condition and later died, according to the Burlington Fire Department.

Firefighters issued an evacuation and declared a Tier 1 hazardous material response.

The Victim

Fire officials identified the victim Friday as 32-year-old Ryan Baldera, the restaurant's general manager. A source tells NBC10 Boston he was a "great guy loved by all at the restaurant."

The source said Baldera was the father of a newborn child.

Grief counselors are expected at the restaurant on Friday to support employees who have been affected by the untimely death.

Injuries

Thirteen other people — two customers and 11 employees — checked themselves into a hospital as a result of the hazmat situation, authorities said. They reported symptoms such as difficulty breathing and a burning feeling in their eyes.

Nine people checked into the Lahey Hospital and a 10th person went to a Lowell medical center. Although the injured were placed on oxygen, none of the surviving patients were in serious condition, according to Patterson.

The Response

One customer told NBC10 Boston that when he asked a restaurant employee if everything was OK, he was told some chemicals had spilled in the kitchen.

"We were just sitting at the bar, and kind of the smell of, like, ammonia and chlorine came over us, and a bunch of people started coughing," said Jim Jorefice, who was inside the restaurant with some coworkers at the time.

Jorefice said the smell of the chemicals become overwhelming.

"At first, I just thought it was the dishwasher — someone poured some chemicals down — but then, it got stronger and stronger," he said.

Buffalo Wild Wings issued a statement on the death of its employee:

“We are shocked and saddened to learn of this horrific accident at our franchise-owned sports bar and are working closely with our franchisee and the authorities while they conduct an investigation,” the company said. 

The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health Service also responded to the fatal incident.

"I am sure that OSHA will be reviewing whether the employer complied with (their) standard as part of their investigation."

"In the meantime, we send our deepest condolences to the family of the worker who died. All workers deserve to come home to their families alive and well."

The Investigation

It is unclear what caused the chemical reaction that led to the employee’s death. Super 8 is a sodium hypochlorite that is often used in sanitation.

"This is a product that we've been told is a common product used in floor cleaning," Patterson said. "For some reason tonight, there was just a reaction that led to this."

Authorities are investigating the possibility that the chemical may have been mixed with something else.

A spokesman for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the agency has opened an inspection at the Buffalo Wild Wings to determine whether or not there were any violations of workplace health and safety standards. OSHA has up to six months to complete its inspection.

How to Help

The Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce has set up a memorial fund for Baldera's family. Anyone who would like to contribute can send a check made out to "Ryan Baldera Memorial Fund" to:

Cambridge Savings Bank
214 Cambridge St.
Burlington, MA 01803

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