Feds Laud Firefighters in North Carolina Chemical Fire

October 9, 2008

The response by Apex, N.C. firefighters was skillful and professional when a chemical plant fire erupted in 2006, but the town needs to make some improvements, a federal report said.

The report issued on Oct. 7 by the U.S. Fire Administration praised Apex’s handling of the fire as “a testimony to multi-jurisdictional planning and training.”

“The key element contributing to the success of operations was that Apex had a very well-defined plan that was practiced routinely,” the report said.

Fire engulfed the plant the night of Oct. 5, 2006. Town officials urged as many as 17,000 people to evacuate the Raleigh suburb, citing potentially toxic fumes.

No one was injured but about 30 people were treated for respiratory problems. Residents were allowed to return home two days later.

The report said Apex should improve plans to evacuate special needs residents and update maps and phone lists for local businesses.

A remote staging area for reserve firefighters and equipment also should have been farther away from the fire to prevent contamination, the report said.

Public information officers should be closely tied to the incident commander, the report said. Public information allowed the news media to give residents valuable updates, the review said.

“The PIO operations struggled in the early stages of this incident due to their remote location, but greatly improved by being repositioned near command,” the report said.

“Future plans are being modified to bring PIO more closely into the key functions of leadership and establish the media area as close to command as is practical.”

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