Texas Chief: Crew Relied on Training as Flames Neared

The chief of the Ennis Fire Department said that training played a big role in keeping firefighters safe as flames from a massive blaze at a chemical plant quickly approached their rig Monday afternoon.

"Training means a lot," Fire Chief David Hopkins told Firehouse.com on Tuesday. "If you know the capability of your truck and the commands that are given to you when you hear them, timing is of the most importance. It showed here because they didn't have much of it to get out."

It took only 30 seconds after the Ennis firefighters were off the ladder truck for the oncoming flames to engulf it.

The department sent a four-man crew and a 1988 Sutphen TS100 Aerial Tower to the Magnablend plant in Waxahachie as part of mutual aid after the fire was reported around 11 a.m.

Two firefighters were in the bucket, another was on the turntable and a fire captain worked to make sure the crew was safe.

"The guys on the platform couldn't see through the doors (of the plant), but the captain did and had them come down," he said. "They thought they'd have time to lift the outriggers and drive it out, but they didn't."

As the firefighters in the bucket were being lowered, the main captain from the Waxahachie Fire Department called a Mayday to evacuate all crews after the flammable liquid began to come out of all sides of the plant at once.

Hopkins said that that flammable liquid flowing with blue flames present is going to move quickly -- something his crew was well aware of.

"We probably would have had the truck out in time if they weren't working on an aerial. The positive thing is that none of our people were hurt."

The department has insurance and Hopkins said the replacement cost is around $1.4 million.

"It was a very good truck; it fought a lot of fires," the chief said, adding that they kept it in tip-top shape and that it had just gone in for its annual inspection.

"That's the only ladder we've got. But we've got our neighbors around us now that will be sending us equipment when we need it and they've already offered."

Luckily, the department won't have to wait too long to bring in a permanent replacement.

Sutphen, which is the sole provider of apparatus for the department, was able to move them up their list and will be shipping over a new 100-foot aerial ladder in February.