Explosion at New Hampshire Ball Bearings in Peterborough injures 15

PETERBOROUGH – At least 15 people were injured Monday, Feb. 10, in an explosion at the New Hampshire Ball Bearings factory on Route 202 in Peterborough.

Two victims with serious injuries were flown by medical helicopter from Monadnock Community Hospital to another facility. Seven others were treated and released by Monday evening, according to the hospital.

“There are injuries, but as far as we know, none of them are life-threatening,” New Hampshire Ball Bearings spokeswoman Kathy Gerrity said. Because of medical privacy laws, company officials were not told the exact extent of the workers’ injuries.

“We are very concerned about the reports that two of our employees are critically injured,” she said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the employees and their families.”

Gerrity said the cause of the explosion remains under investigation. She said the building was evacuated and the company enacted “standard emergency response procedures.”

The explosion took place shortly before 3:40 p.m., blowing out windows on the first floor of the facility.

Dozens of firefighters responded, including a hazardous materials group from the Keene Fire Department. Fire crews from Rindge, Dublin, Hancock and Bennington also traveled to the scene, according to The Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

Peterborough Fire Chief Joseph P. Lenox quickly called for four alarms to have fire trucks and ambulances on the scene.

“We had fire departments from Milford to Keene to Hillsborough and everybody in between and about 10 communities responded. We knew in about five to six minutes it was a serious situation and went to four alarms,” Lenox said.

A staging area was set up in the Ball Bearings parking lot. Around 5 p.m., school buses from the ConVal District arrived on the scene to keep employees warm as dusk was falling and the temperature dropped to about 19 degrees.

One of them, Wayne Zawodowicz, was working about 40 feet from the room where the explosion occurred.

“I was at my bench working on a tool, and basically, I heard a thunderous boom and the room across from me apparently had something in it and it blew up,” Zawodowicz said. “The wall board came down towards me and I was between two benches and was able to hit the floor and an orange flame came over my head and dissipated. We all evacuated, but we made sure all of our people were accounted for and came out here.”

Zawodowicz has worked at NHBB for 16 years as a tool and die maker.

In a statement released shortly after 6 p.m. Feb. 10, Gov. Maggie Hassan said the state’s emergency operations center was opened as a precautionary measure.

“While we are still gathering details about the explosion, we are very encouraged to hear that all employees have been accounted for,” Hassan said.

Lenox said the facility suffered “extensive damage” to the interior.

Company spokeswoman Gerrity said it’s unclear when the facility will reopen.

“First responders at the facility will be investigating the cause of the incident, as well as determining the extent of the damage to the facility,” she said in a statement. “We don’t know yet when the facility will be back in operation and won’t have an idea about that until the building has been thoroughly inspected and the premises are deemed to be safe.”

New Hampshire Ball Bearings is the second-largest employer in Peterborough, according to data available from the New Hampshire Employment Security office. The company is listed as having 550 employees.

The Peterborough plant is the HiTech Division for NHBB, and was established in 1946. It specializes in designing and manufacturing “complex bearing assemblies for various aircraft engine applications,” according to the company’s website.

The plant houses a metallurgical laboratory, an 11,000-square-foot heat treating facility and precision manufacturing equipment on two floors.

New Hampshire Ball Bearings is a subsidiary of the Japanese firm, Minebea Co. Ltd.

It is headquartered in California, and operates facilities in Germany and the Czech Republic.

Correspondent Kathleen Humphreys contributed to this story.