Firefighters improve procedures, upgrade equipment after 2008 blast

PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. (WSAV) — The Imperial Sugar Plant explosion significantly changed disaster response in two critical categories.

Savannah Fire Assistant Chief William Handy said one of the most challenging aspects of the firefight proved to be communication.

“Everybody’s trying to transmit what’s important for their tasks they’re trying to handle,” said Handy. Savannah Fire was one of the agencies who answered the call for mutual aid the night of the incident.

At that time, local fire departments didn’t have radios that allowed easy communication with other agencies who don’t normally work together.

Handy said that technology has dramatically improved. It allows additional channels of communication with multiple agencies.

The other big challenge that night was a water supply problem.

“What (fire suppression) systems that might have been there were not functioning. There were issues with that and if they were functioning, it was very limited,” Handy said.

That problem led to an effort to enable firefighters to pull water from the river.

(courtesy Savannah Fire)

“It was a consortium of industries along the riverfront who pitched in money that matched a grant that we were able to purchase industrial fire equipment which are large pumps that move a lot of volume of water,” Handy said.

That equipment features 1,000 feet of hose — much longer than a typical fire truck.

It is owned and maintained by Savannah Fire and kept at the port. Handy said the equipment proved its worth when it was used to fight a blaze at the port in 2014.

“It was used and it made a huge difference in the extinguishing of that fire,” Handy said.

(courtesy Savannah Fire)

It would be the Chatham Emergency Management Agency’s job to coordinate what’s called an “after action” report – detailing the challenges and things that need improvement.

In April 2008 CEMA finalized the report identifying “many of the actions taken, operational strengths, and lessons learned” during the response to the incident.

READ: CEMA After Action Report – Imperial Sugar Dixie Crystal Plant

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