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After pumping into the sprinkler system for two to three minutes, Engine 2 Engineer Glenn Morrill noticed the engine’s motor was racing. Morrill realized this indicated a broken sprinkler system in the building. Engine 2 was ordered to evacuate its position and report to the command post. Less than five minutes after the arrival of the fire department, the back wall and roof collapsed in the area of the fire.
At 10:55 A.M., additional mutual aid was requested. Responding units included Emergency Service District 6 Engine 982, Ovilla Fire Department Engine 704, Ennis Fire Department Tower 9, De Soto Fire Department Quint 261, Lancaster Fire Department D351 (a decontamination trailer) and the Dallas Fire Department hazardous materials unit. Also, a Waxahachie “all call” was initiated, notifying all off-duty firefighters to report to their duty station regardless of where they live. Engine 982 and crew responded to Waxahachie Station One for standby to provide emergency services to the rest of the city along with off-duty Waxahachie Battalion Chief Randel Muirhead, Captain Jeff Marrs and three firefighters. Two ambulances were assigned to the command post by the East Texas Emergency Medical Center. Ovilla’s rehab truck and the American Red Cross were requested to set up a rehabilitation area at the scene.
A unified command was established with Hudgins and Waxahachie Police Chief Chuck Edge, City Manager Paul Stevens and Public Information Officer Amy Hollywood. Edge closed all roads around the incident. Police also evacuated an elementary school, assisted living center, apartment complex and several duplex homes in the area. These evacuations needed to be completed within 45 minutes. Approximately 700 to 1,000 people were evacuated. Waxahachie police were assisted by the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office and Texas Department of Public Safety. Citizens were told to evacuate, but no shelter was provided. The elementary school and the assisted-living center implemented emergency plans for evacuation.
At 11:10 A.M., as the fire continued to grow in the C Division, the command post was relocated farther to the southwest from the building. No firefighting operations were assigned to the A Division because of the heavy smoke. Waxahachie Engine 2 and Red Oak Engine 183 were reassigned to establish two ground monitors in the D Division. Midlothian Engine 2, Ovilla Engine 704 and Ennis Tower Ladder 9 were assigned to the B Division under Potter’s command. Their assignment was to stop the fire at the loading dock and protect the outside storage area and 10 railcars. Potter placed Ennis Tower Ladder 9 in the loading dock facing the main gate to facilitate a quick exit if needed. Midlothian Engine 2 laid a 300-foot, five-inch line to Ennis Tower Ladder 9. Midlothian firefighters also deployed a ground monitor in front of the loading dock doorway using 150 feet of 2½-inch hose, but time did not allow the monitor to be used. While setting the ground monitor in place, Safety Officer Dale McCaskill noticed radiant heat from the fire was melting the plastic bladders of numerous totes in the building, each tote containing 330 gallons of mineral oil.
Mineral oil ignites
At 11:20 A.M., two Ennis firefighters were elevating Tower Ladder 9’s platform into position. McCaskill and Potter saw the plastic bladder in a tote near the dock doorway rupturing. Everyone was ordered to evacuate the area immediately. Midlothian Engine 2 was quickly moved from the area as Tower Ladder 9’s platform was coming down. The radiant heat ignited the large amount of mineral oil and a wave of fire flowed from the building. Tower Ladder 9’s platform was bedded and the two firefighters exited the bucket just before the wave of fire consumed the apparatus. Potter exited to the north, or A/B Division, corner. All other firefighters exited to the southeast, or the B/C Division, corner. Radio communications could not be established between Potter and the other firefighters, so a personnel accountability report (PAR) was verified via personal cell phones.
Because the B Division was now engulfed in fire, it was separated into A/B and B/C divisions. Potter was assigned as the A/B Division officer and Myers as B/C Division officer. Potter assigned Ovilla Engine 704 to establish deck gun operations from the service road of the main gate into the outside tote-storage area. However, due to the intense heat, the area quickly became untenable. Engine 704 was repositioned down the service road and reassigned to the B/C Division.