Buckhannon Fire Chief J.B. Kimble discusses the fire departments and other city crews' responses to the Aug. 26 chemical leak at the Wood Street water plant. / Photo by Katie Kuba

City officials reviewing response to chlorine leak, may develop added protocols for HAZMAT incidents

BUCKHANNON – City crews are assessing their response and re-evaluating their resources after a recent chemical leak at the Buckhannon Water Plant on Wood Street forced residents in the immediate vicinity to evacuate the area.

At Buckhannon City Council’s most recent meeting Sept. 1, Buckhannon Fire Chief J.B. Kimble said all city departments, including police and fire, are conducting an after-accident review of an Aug. 26 chlorine leak to assess strengths, weaknesses and opportunities.

“Crews responded very professionally from all departments,” Kimble told council during his report. “Nobody (no employees) got hurt, and nobody in the community got hurt. We had to do a quick evacuation because that could have been a serious incident.”

Kimble said city employees involved in remediating the situation are internally evaluating their actions and then plan to present their findings to the Water Department and its superintendent, Kelly Arnold.

“So, what we are doing in line with getting our accreditation is doing an after-action review, all of the people who were involved in that incident,” Kimble said. “We are writing up what we think we did well and what we could work on and we are presenting that to Kelly and the Water Department and we’re going to talk about some future training aspects and some equipment that may be needed.”

One area of need that’s already been pinpointed is installing some type of alarm that specifically alerts surrounding residents of a chemical leak. Kimble said some people who live or work in the area may have mistaken the alarm indicating there was a chemical leak for a fire alarm.

“I also want to make everyone aware in that part of town that the Water Department does not have a fire alarm,” Kimble said. “If you hear that loud alarm going off, it’s a chlorine alarm; it is not a fire alarm or a smoke alarm. There is no fire alarm at the water plant, so if that alarm goes off, the best thing you could do is to look out for the windsock which is on the water plant to see which way the wind is blowing, and that’ll tell you which way, if the chlorine goes out of the building, which way the chlorine will float and it usually can go into low spaces.”

Kimble said thus far, first responders have discussed pairing a visual indicator – such as a flashing light – with the audible alarm to signify any chemical leaks in the future.

“We need something that notifies people that, ‘hey, it’s not a fire, it’s a chemical leak,’” the fire chief said, “because if you inhale that chlorine, it’s bad-bad, and if you get it on you and then you put water on it, [the chlorine] becomes acid, so that’s even worse.”

In the future, Upshur EMS will also automatically dispatch an ambulance to the scene of any hazardous materials incident. Additional safety protocol will be compiled in an after-accident review, Kimble told council members.

“We have never had that issue before, but after the other day, we’ve really got to take that seriously because if we have a large leak down there, with the amount of houses that are in the immediate area, we could have some problems,” Kimble said.

Mayor Robbie Skinner and Kimble commended the professionalism of city crews.

“Everyone was calm, collected and professional – and that’s what you expect from us,” Kimble said.

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