Employees at a downtown Tacoma office got to leave work early - just not the way they would have wanted - when mysterious powder discovered in a mail package brought firefighters, police and even the military to the area Wednesday.
Firefighters responded to a Multi-Care building at 737 S. Fawcett Ave. in the afternoon after an office worker found a suspicious substance , Tacoma fire spokesman Joe Meinecke said. Hazmat crews and Camp Murray’s civilian support team tested the powder and concluded that it was not dangerous.
“It tested negative for normal contaminants or hazardous materials,” Meinecke said. The department did not disclose what the substance was.
The building was evacuated about 2:30 p.m., and about 250 people who work there were required to stay at the scene until about 7:15 p.m. Nobody was hospitalized, Meinecke said .
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The building houses a billing department and is not a patient facility, MultiCare spokeswoman Marce Edwards said.
Witnesses said an employee on the third floor of the four-story building opened a financial aid request early in the afternoon and discovered the white powder.
“The bosses came through and told everyone to pack up, go on home,” said Bev Naugle, who sat on the curb with her black-and-grey striped backpack, next to two crumpled firefighter jackets. Naugle recalled that as soon as she finished putting away her things, she heard that she wouldn’t be able to leave the scene. “Who’d have thought that something like this would happen to the billing department?”
While crews waited for the test results, police blocked off traffic at South Ninth Street and Fawcett. Employees had the option of seeking relief from the 80-plus degree heat in four Pierce Transit buses, at least one of which was full. Other s opted to gather in clumps in the shade along the block, fiddling with their phones and watching anxiously as firefighters emerging from the building were sprayed with hoses and scrubbed down.
“Can I get a shower?” called out a man in a blue dress shirt. “Can I just go?”
A seated woman in pink joked, “Hey, it’s a free facial!”
To pass the time, workers swapped gum and hand sanitizer and joked about dress-code violations. They cheered when firefighters wheeled a light-blue porta- potty inside the cordoned-off zone about 4:45 p.m. Crews also passed out bottled water, animal crackers and fruit cups, which reminded Naugle of kindergarten, only “there’s no blanket.”
Edwards said she didn’t know why MultiCare was targeted. Tacoma police will investigate, and the building will be open for business today. Mailman Wayne Orden, who has been delivering parcels for a month, was slightly shaken. “I’m scared to handle mail now,” he said.
Joyce Chen: 253-597-8426 firstname.lastname@example.org