IN THE wake of last night’s explosion in Texas, safety arrangements are being reviewed in Gloucestershire if such a disaster happens here.
Gloucestershire’s chief fire officer Jon Hall – who is also the UK’s lead officer of national resilience – is working with the Local Resilience Forum to ensure measures are in place to deal with a similar incident.
Mr Hall said he was “saddened” by yesterday’s events.
“From a fire service perspective, we have incredible respect for the volunteer fire departments that look after vast areas of the USA and are keeping our fingers crossed for the initial emergency responders who are still unaccounted for as this is written,” he said.
He added ammonia nitrate fertilisers – such as those being produced at the plant which exploded – are a well-known risk to firefighters.
“The very energy within it that helps crops grow is the same energy that can sustain substantial fires and, in the right conditions, explosions,” he said.
“Indeed, fertiliser bombs were a characteristic of terrorist activity throughout the 70's and 80's and are still used to create improvised devices today.”
Fertiliser production and storage plants in the UK are regulated by the Health and Safety Executive and plans are in place with local emergency services for response where necessary.
Mr Hall said common problems facing firefighters responding to a fertiliser fire included isolating stocks to prevent explosions and managing toxic smoke plumes.
“They also have to stop contaminated water run-off from firefighting operations entering the watercourse or domestic drinking supplies,” he said.
“These are all undertaken in partnership with agencies such as the Environment Agency, Thames and Severn Trent Water.
“High volume pumps and decontamination units will be called from around the country to help with operations and national plans for supporting major incidents will kick-in.”
He added Gloucestershire’s Local Resilience Forum has plans in place for just such a disaster.
“Each of these plans is owned and managed by a lead agency often a local authority or emergency service,” he said.
“When disaster strikes, we need confidence that the plans will be implemented and will all work together seamlessly to create an effective response.”
In an event such as the explosion in Texas, a number of measures need to be set up quickly including communication plans, holding areas for emergency services coming from further afield and shelters for displaced people.
Hospitals also need to be on standby to receive a high number of casualties.
Mr Hall said he was confident, if such a disaster happened in Gloucestershire, the emergency services would be well prepared to deal with it, saying: “Whilst thinking of all those affected in Texas, we all hope and pray that the plans we work so hard on are not needed closer to home.”