Whenever theres's a accident where toxic chemicals are involved emergency workers have to be ready to respond quickly and effectively. Jackson County emergency officials say the most important step to handling Sunday's accident took place long before they arrived on the scene. It was when government and industry leaders sat down and developed a plan of action on how to handle hazardous accidents. Emergency officials having a plan ahead of time can save lives.
By afternoon the First Chemical plant no longer looked like the nightmare scene Pascagoula firefighters say they found when they arrived that morning. Firefighters say a chemical explosion sent fire everywhere. Fortunately, they were prepared nearly half of the department is trained to fight industrial fires.
Battalion Chief Jerry Hildebarnd said, "Anytime you have had training and experience in situations, you're going to respond to it better. You know what to expect and you know what you have to do to bring the situation under control. Without our training we would be kind of flying blind."
Firefighters say what keeps them from flying blind is the Incident Command System. The plan goes into effect whenever there is an accident involving hazardous materials.
"You have people in charge of operations," said Hildebarnd. "You have people in charge of support. There can only be on commander on scene at a time that way everybody knows who's in charge, who to report to and who gives the orders."
Industries have worked with government agencies like the Jackson County Civil Defense to come up with the Local Emergency Plan. Part of it includes accessing how much of a toxic threat gases pose to the public.
Jackson Civil Defense Todd Adams said, "Like what chemical is it for instance. What's the wind direction? What's the time of the day? Are people at home are they at work so we have to gather all this information and go with it from there."
Adams says since most companies have good safety programs, chemical accidents aren't common, but they are a serious concern in South Mississippi.
"We do know that the threat exists not only with our fixed facilities out there but with the railroad cutting through the coast as well as the Interstate going up and down the roads," said Adams. "So that's why we do prepare and we do have hazardous materials teams in place to help us contain and maintain the situation."
First Chemical officials say the fire was caused when flying debris ruptured a storage tank. They say they'll work with government authorities to determine the extent of any environmental damage.