911 calls, dispatch tapes in Athens fertilizer fire detail respo - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

911 calls, dispatch tapes in Athens fertilizer fire detail response, evacuations

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An Athens Fire truck stationed outside the East Texas Ag Supply facility in May 2014. (Source KLTV) An Athens Fire truck stationed outside the East Texas Ag Supply facility in May 2014. (Source KLTV)
ATHENS, TX (KLTV) -

Recordings from the Athens Police Department and Athens Fire Department are giving new insight into how the departments responded to the fire at East Texas Ag Supply on May 29.

The dispatch recordings and 911 calls, released to KLTV through an open records request, detail when authorities were notified and just how quickly units arrived on scene and started evacuations.

The initial call was paged out by the Athens dispatch at 5:43p.m. with crews from the Athens Fire Department responding within two minutes.

Within ten minutes of the initial call, Athens Fire Chief John McQueary, who is also the county's emergency planning committee chair, was on the scene.

"Athens Fire Department... Need you to respond to a structure fire on Pinkerton and Larkin," the dispatcher said. "Fertilizer plant's on fire, Pinkerton and Larkin."

The smoke was visible for miles from the downtown Athens facility, with some police officers noticing it from afar. 

"I believe we got a structure fire at this fertilizer plant on Larkin and uh, Pinkerton. Dispatch fire," the police officer radioed at 5:44p.m. At that time, crews were already on their way to East Texas Ag Supply. The dispatcher responded, "10-4 sir, they're en route."

The downtown square was busy with five o'clock traffic and people readying the square for the Fiddler's Reunion and carnival.

When crews arrived on scene, they all knew what had to be done.

"PD, it's smoking pretty good," one officer reported back to dispatch. "We need to see if we can get some more personnel up here to clear out this area."

Athens fire and police crews along with other crews from across Henderson County helped with evacuating the area, while maintaining a safe distance.

People close to downtown and far away called Athens 911 to report the billowing smoke.

"I'm at the gym on College and Palestine and it looks like there's something on fire on the courthouse square," one woman said. 

"Yes ma'am. It's not the courthouse square, it's the fertilizer plant. Everybody needs to evacuate," the dispatcher replied.

Dispatchers at Athens police had to handle incoming 911 calls, coordinating their police and fire personnel and calling upon additional agencies to come to their city for assistance.

Chief McQueary quickly assumed the lead role in the fire after arriving on scene.

"01 assuming command on Pinkerton and Larkin," Chief McQueary radioed. "We do have a well-involved fertilizer facility. We're going to be unable to contain it, we're going to need PD assistance on evacuations on all four sides."

Off-duty Athens fire personnel were paged in by 6 p.m., along with off-duty members of the Athens Police Department.

Departments from all over Henderson County responded and evacuated a three-,  then five-block radius surrounding the fertilizer facility. Dispatch audio while the evacuations were taking place show the difficulty of locking down such a large area.

"Anybody available, there is a school bus cutting through between 19 and Prairieville on the north side of Larkin. Stop that bus!" one officer said.

"Just anybody you see, get 'em out of there," Fire Chief McQueary said. "Tell them to go at least three blocks away.

Crews were left to hold their positions and wait for the flames to subside.

"We're just going to hold in place and see what happens here," McQueary said to his firefighters.

It was a waiting game that eventually paid off for Athens, with no injuries or fatalities being reported.

Cleanup is still stalled at the site of East Texas Ag Supply. Crews are waiting on instruction from Union Pacific Railroad, the company that owns the property, before they can begin moving the remaining building materials and chemical product that remains onsite.

An updated report on the fertilizer fire is expected to be released by the Texas State Fire Marshal's Office sometime next week.

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