Fire EMS, Firefighting, Fireground Management

USFA releases report on the Apex, North Carolina chemical fire

The United States Fire Administration (USFA) released a new technical report titled Chemical Fire in Apex, North Carolina (PDF, 746 Kb). At 9:38 p.m. on Thursday, October 5, 2006, the Apex (NC) Fire Department was dispatched to a report of a chlorine odor. AFD dispatched its standard response of two engines and a chief officer (shift commander). By the time the incident demobilized, approximately 17,000 people had been evacuated from their homes due to the threat posed by the chemical plume. There were no fatalities. Thirty civilians sought medical treatment for respiratory distress and skin irritation. Twelve police officers and one firefighter were treated for respiratory difficulties that were consistent with exposure to “tear gas.” This report examines the response of the department, the value of preplanning efforts, and the impact of a well coordinated response in the worst of conditions.

“Once again we see the positive outcomes of preplanning, practicing the plans, and executing the plans when an emergency occurs,” said U.S. Fire Administrator Greg Cade. “Our country’s fire service is an amazing cadre of specially trained individuals whom the public not only relies on during emergencies–but also depends on to be prepare for all emergencies, and knows how to apply the principles of on scene management, including ICS and NIMS.”

From every account and after-action report, including the town’s report, this potentially devastating situation was handled with the highest levels of skill and expertise. The multiagency cooperation was virtually a textbook application of Unified Command and the National Incident Management System (NIMS). The key element contributing to the success of operations was that Apex had a very well-defined plan that was practiced routinely. They made a commitment to train to the plan, and when they had an incident they used the plan as a foundation for the response.

The USFA develops reports on selected major incidents throughout the country. The incidents usually involve multiple deaths or a large loss of property, but the primary criterion for deciding to write a report is whether it will result in significant lessons learned. Under this project, USFA also develops special reports addressing a variety of issues that affect the fire service such as homeland security and disaster preparedness, new technologies, training, fireground tactics, and firefighter safety and health.

For additional information regarding this report, or other USFA Technical Reports, visit the Publications section of the USFA Web site: www.usfa.dhs.gov/applications/publications/