By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • When Alfred K. “Dooie” Leach got word that one of FCI Inc.’s facilities was on fire on New Year’s Eve, at first he thought it might be the company’s office headquarters, not one of the buildings that works with farm chemicals.
When he arrived at the scene on St. Pauls Road and saw it for himself, he quickly realized that wasn’t the case.
“When I crossed the railroad track, fire was just absolutely pouring out of the worst place it possibly could be pouring out of,” he said. “I knew right then that with a head of steam, that fire was going to be significant and the losses would be very significant.”
Leach was the guest speaker last week at the Hoke County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC)’s kickoff meeting. He shared his experience as president and COO of a business that works with chemicals, and which has had to deal with an emergency situation.
FCI has four different operating units, including the one in Raeford which produces liquid-type fertilizer and caught fire December 31.
“You sit here theoretically thinking about a fire or planning for a fire, it’s a lot different than when you actually have a fire,” Leach said.
LEPC representatives from emergency response agencies are looking to build stronger ties with them to better prepare for that type of situation. Dozens of officials from businesses, fire departments and local governments attended the LEPC meeting so they could jump-start the planning process.
Hoke County has had an LEPC for many years, as required by law. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a halt to in-person meetings. The gathering last week at the Bobby Wright Hoke County Agriculture Building in Raeford was meant to revitalize the committee, emergency management coordinator Andrew Jacobs said.
There are over a dozen companies and agencies in Hoke County that work with potentially hazardous materials, Jacobs said. Reportable substances can include things like methanol, formaldehyde and sulfuric acid.
The LEPC is tasked with developing and updating a local emergency response plan, reviewing the plan each year and providing information about chemicals to the community and its citizens. People involved in the LEPC include elected officials; police, fire, civil defense and public health professionals; environment, transportation and hospital officials; facility representatives; and members of community groups and the media.
The LEPC’s community emergency response plan will need to include information such as identification of facilities and transportation routes of extremely hazardous substances; description of emergency response procedures, on and off site; outline of emergency notification procedures; a description of how to determine the probable affected area and population by releases; a description of local emergency equipment and facilities and persons responsible for them; an outline of evacuation plans; a training program for emergency responders; and methods and schedules for exercising emergency response plans.
The committee’s next meeting will be in January of 2023.