Sterlington Police Chief talks communication protocol for chemical plant emergencies

STERLINGTON, La. (KNOE) - Wednesday's fire at a chemical plant in Sterlington was a close call according to officials, but it did bring back some terrifying memories from the past.

According to the ANGUS representative, once they alert local first responders, those agencies are responsible for notifying the general public. Source: (KNOE)

A plant explosion at The IMC Fertilizer plant in 1991 killed 8 people, and injured more than 120. It's an event police will never forget.

"Because it did happen you know it can happen again, you do take it serious," said Barry Bonner, the Sterlington Chief of Police.

Sirens wailed in the town of Sterlington Wednesday afternoon after the ANGUS Chemical Company had a small fire at their plant.

Although it was small and no injuries were reported, Chief Bonner said his department assumes the responsibility of relaying information to the town.

"When [the company] notif[ies] us we make sure that our schools, middle school over here, town hall, businesses need to be notified of what's going on," Bonner said.

In an off-camera conversation with ANGUS representative Scott Johnson, the company handles its internal process of notifying Homeland Security, other federal/state agencies and local fire and police. The department then contacts the town directly.

In this case, the plant contacted Sterlington Middle School that sits a few miles from the plant. The school then issued the following message to all parents and guardians:

"Sterlington Middle School was alerted to an incident at ANGUS Company today. The authorities have assured us there is no threat, chemical or otherwise students are safe at school," said the school representative.

According to Dr. Don Coker, the Ouachita Parish School Board Superintendent, the students were held in the school’s auditorium for a brief period of time until they received the all-clear.

Bonner also says if the emergency at the plant is ever severe, they can issue an evacuation order. In that event, they would advise all businesses and homes to take cover.

"Stay in place, tape windows up, tape under doors, stay inside don't go outside looking around what's going on," said Bonner.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation by the Ouachita Parish Fire Department.