Chemical plant fire did not trigger neighborhood alert

The building that was damaged at OxyChem on Thursday, October 8, 2015 (Photo by KSN's Raoul Cortez)

WICHITA, Kansas – When there’s a fire at a chemical plant a lot can go wrong, potentially putting a community in danger.

Luckily, Thursday evening’s fire at OxyChem in southwest Sedgwick County was extinguished before it caused  any injury or public danger.

But there is an emergency alert system set up to notify nearby residents if something does go wrong at the plant, and Friday we found out that notification did not go out.

KSN Cobb spoke with the company and neighbors to find out how the system works and if nearby residents should be worried.

OxyChem said there was a reason for not sending out any alert to its neighbors.

Plant officials said that’s because the plant’s safety systems operated as expected during this event, and due to the quick work of responding firefighters there were no safety concerns for the nearby community and the alert system was not activated.

Residents KSN spoke with Friday say, of course a fire at the chemical plant is worrisome, and alerts, or lack thereof give them peace of mind.  They say, living close to a chemical plant, the potential for an accident is always in the back of your mind.

“When you’re that close to a place like that, a chemical plant, you always keep in mind that there can be accidents and stuff can happen,” said Larry Thome who lives near the plant.

Thome has lived within a mile of the plant for the last 25 years.  His neighbor, Arlene Bergkamp has lived near the plant even longer.

“Sure, everybody’s concerned if there would be a major release you know, how would it affect you,” said Bergkamp.

In the event of a dangerous release of chemicals the plant would send an automated alert to everyone within a two to three mile radius telling them what precautions to take.

Sedgwick County Emergency Management officials also paid close attention to the possible safety threat and were prepared to send out their own alert Thursday evening.

“We got an alert about it and immediately recognized this was a situation where that would be active so we had somebody who came into their desk and stayed there and waited just in case a call came through,” said Dan Pugh, Sedgwick County’s Emergency Manager.

But a call didn’t come through.

Neighbors say they’re confident the company is careful and wouldn’t put them in danger.

“I don’t care what kind of business you’re in there is always going to be something that happens and as long as you can handle it and do it safely that’s all you can ask for,” said Thome.

But Thome says alert or no alert, “You gotta be smart enough to look after yourself.”

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