DEER PARK, Texas - Newly released 911 recordings shed light on how officials in deer park responded to the ITC disaster last March.
City officials told FOX 26 they’ve learned a lot and made improvements in the 11 months since then. It was a chemical fire that burned for three days and instigated multiple shelter in place alerts as waves of benzene-polluted air swept over the area.
“What blew up?” one caller is heard asking dispatch Sunday morning March 17, 2019. “Oh my gosh. Traveling on 225 and saw the big huge black plume.”
The 911 calls—which began at 10:03 a.m.—show a communication breakdown as emergency responders struggled to handle an unprecedented disaster.
“It looks like ITC is having a fire,” one caller tells dispatch at 10:14 a.m. the morning of the fire. “They haven’t posted anything. Do y’all know anything about it?”
“You said ITC?” dispatch responds.
But recordings show Deer Park city officials initially struggled to get ahold of employees at Intercontinental Terminals Company in the first hour as the fire raged.
“You guys get ahold of anybody?”
City of Deer Park Director of Emergency Services Robert Hemminger asks dispatch.
“We did not,” the dispatcher responds.
“I’ve tried reaching out to a plant manager and to their emergency response guy, but neither one of them are answering,” Hemminger says in a call at 10:29 a.m. “We’re not able to get ahold of anybody at the plant for any additional information or a chemical, so we don’t really know what we’re dealing with yet.”
“We have no clue,” says the dispatcher.
“They still have no clue of what’s burning,” attorney Bill Ogden told Fox 26 while listening to the 911 calls he obtained from the city.
Ogden is representing businesses and about 1,500 people who suffered health symptoms and property losses after the fire.
“You have officers out there shutting down the freeway,” said Ogden. “They’re not respirated. They have no idea what’s burning. Nobody has any idea.”
Hemminger says in the future the city will send an information liaison straight to the scene.
“Closing that communication loop, so to speak,” said Hemminger. “Which didn’t happen until about the third day of the ITC incident. It would happen probably within the first couple of hours in subsequent incidents.”
Hemminger also said since the fire the city has made a big push to get residents signed up for emergency phone alerts, and they’ve streamlined their online and social media alert system to better inform the public.Anyone can sign up for their emergency alerts on readydp.com.