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Richmond Fire Department personnel pack up their gear after responding to a hazardous materials spill at the Foods Co grocery store in Richmond, Calif. on Monday, April 22, 2013. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)
RICHMOND - A refrigerator contractor suffered a serious injury to his hand at the downtown Foods Co store Monday after a Freon leak caused a small explosion on the appliance he was working on, authorities said.

Fire crews responded to 1250 Macdonald Ave. about 2 p.m. after the blast reportedly injured a repairman who was fixing a refrigeration unit that was leaking Freon, a compound commonly used as a refrigerant, Battalion Chief Merlin Turner said.

The repairman, an outside contractor through PMC Refrigeration, was working on the refrigerator in a second-floor room in the back of the store when the pipe ruptured and slammed his hand against other piping, Fire Chief Michael Banks said.

The man was taken to John Muir Medical Center, where he was undergoing surgery to have the top of his hand sewn back together, Banks said. He was said to be in fair condition, with the injury to his hand being listed as serious.

According to Banks, the man was also splattered in the face with oil when the pipe ruptured.

"(The oil) is pressurized, so when the pipe burst, the oil spewed up and got into his face and eyes," Banks said.

A Foods Co employee who tended to the man's injury was also taken to the hospital after she began feeling ill, Turner said. The woman was treated for breathing issues related to Freon inhalation.

The store was evacuated while fire crews contained the leak and investigated the cause of the explosion, Turner said.


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Nearby businesses that had been evacuated began to reopen about 5 p.m.

"All the crews did a great job at the scene," Banks said. "It was originally dispatched as a medical emergency and it was clearly a lot more serious than that."

Though fire crews left the grocery store about 6 p.m., Banks said Foods Co would make the decision as to when to reopen its doors. A store employee said Monday evening that the store would be closed for the night, and would reopen by midday Tuesday.

Contact Erin Ivie at eivie@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/erin_ivie.