How it happened: A timeline of the Deer Park chemical fire

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

DEER PARK, Texas - Emergency calls and dispatch logs from the Deer Park Police Department show there was initial confusion as to exactly where a fire was burning Sunday morning.

Even after pinpointing the location of the fire, Deer Park police records show officials initially had trouble getting information as to what chemicals were involved in the fire.

An industry alert system referred to as Emerge shows ITC officials noticed a fire at the facility at 10 a.m. and sent an alert to several municipalities at 10:21 a.m. By that time, Deer Park police were already getting calls from the public and employees.

SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM OF THE ARTICLE FOR AN INTERACTIVE TIMELINE OF EVENTS

“Are you guys getting calls for a fire?” a caller was heard asking a Deer Park police dispatcher.

“Yeah, but we don't know where it is yet,” the dispatcher answered.

According to Deer Park police records, it took the department until about 10:15 a.m. to pinpoint the fire at ITC. While records do not indicate exactly when this call was made, by the time Deer Park police located the fire, Channel Industries Mutual Aid was already responding. CIMA is the combined firefighting and hazardous materials response capabilities of the petrochemical and refining industry in our region.

However, Deer Park police records and calls to its dispatch show the department still had trouble getting information about what exactly was burning inside ITC.

A call to Deer Park police dispatch marked at 10:29 a.m. is an exchange between Deer Park’s head of emergency services, Robert Hemminger, and the dispatcher.

“You guys get ahold of anyone at ITC yet?” Hemminger asks.

“We did not,” the dispatcher answers before telling Hemminger that CIMA had requested one Deer Park fire engine to be sent to help with the fire.

Later in that call, Hemminger is heard telling the dispatcher he’s “tried reaching out to the plant manager and their emergency response guy but neither one of them are answering.”

A little over a half hour after the fire was first noticed at ITC, other agencies were calling Deer Park for information.

“I have units out helping with traffic at 225. Do y'all know what chemical ... that's burning?” an employee from the Precinct 8 Constable’s Office is heard asking a Deer Park dispatcher.

“We have not received any information from the plant about what the actual chemical is; we trying to get our emergency person to contact them and they haven't been able to get in touch with anybody,” the dispatcher answered.

A call marked as 10:47 a.m. is the first indication a potentially dangerous chemical may be involved.

“They are calling for no shelter-in-place at this time, but they’re in defensive fire mode and, according to Phillip, it is a nasty chemical, but that is all we know, we have no chemical name,” the dispatcher tells a person who is believed to be a member of the Deer Park Police Department.

“OK, so Phillip knows it’s a nasty chemical, but not the name?” the caller asks.

“Yes,” the dispatcher answers.

“OK, who is going to get that information for us?” the caller asks.

“We are working on that still,” the dispatcher answers.

Deer Park police records show at 10:51 a.m., Hemminger called for a shelter-in-place for the “north half of the city.” The first mention of a chemical in Deer Park police records came at 11:31 a.m. when it was noted naphtha was involved. These records do not indicate whether any Deer Park personnel knew what chemicals were burning before this time.

At 1:23 p.m., a citywide shelter-in-place was instituted.

KPRC reached out to Deer Park police to see if city officials can provide more context to these calls and records. We have not yet received a response.

Check out the timeline of events below:

Copyright 2019 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.