Emergency Responders, Industrial Reps, Brainstorm Better Response

Today, those first responders came together to share what they have learned.
Today, those first responders came together to share what they have learned.

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - February taught local emergency responders a huge lesson in being ready for anything when the Imperial Sugar refinery exploded. Today, those first responders came together to share what they have learned, hoping to improve on their emergency response techniques.

The February Imperial Sugar explosion was deadly, killing 13 people and injuring countless others.

The men and women who were among the first responders are sharing what they learned from the experience with industrial representatives, in what is being called a burn and blast conference.

"Communication is always the most vital link and it is the most underused," Port Wentworth Fire chief, Greg Long told us.

Chief Long says you can't predict the unexpected but you can be as ready as you possibly can. "Unfortunately when you have a disaster there are few things that don't go the way you want them to," he said.

With the help of the Medical Reserve Corps, local fire, EMS, hospitals and industrial representatives tweaked and suggested new ideas for dealing with disaster.

"When you learn these lessons and you can share them with other industries they can plan ahead of time in the event something like this happens at their locations," Long said. "Plan for something that might happen at your neighbors facility, not just your facility."

"We've learned all the lessons learned from what happened at Savannah sugar refinery," CEMA's interim director Clayton Scott, told us.

Scott isn't shy about how he felt the emergency community handled the sugar refinery explosion. "Oh, perfectly. I think it went excellent," he said.

But Scott admits there were some situations where even the best laid plans were helped by the knowledge of experts from so many fields.

"The search teams that came through, the dog teams, I never in a million years would have thought about vet support and they said we need veterinarians out here and with in 60 seconds, two of the dogs got hurt. That's how you learn," Scott said.

"We need to encompass new things which not only deal with what happened, but lingering issues which happen two, three, four and five days afterwards," Long said. He hopes these plans don't have to be used anytime soon. "Never to anybody ever, anywhere."

But realistically, Long never thought the sugar plant would have exploded so suddenly.

"God forbid this happens again. We will be better at it," Long said. He also says new regulations will be coming through soon. He recommends companies develop a simple and straight forward plan for employees to follow.

Reported by: Don Logana, dlogana@wtoc.com