Two weeks after a fire shut down one of the area’s top job creators, Holcomb and Garden City emergency officials are reflecting on what made their response a success.
“The public around Holcomb comes through anytime we ask,” said Bill Knight. “It was the same thing here.”
Knight is the chief of the Holcomb Community Fire Department, one of the entities responsible for combating a fire in the Tyson Fresh Meats plant earlier this month. The Holcomb plant was swarmed with emergency personnel after an operations manager called in a “hydraulic fire, oil fire,” at 8:35 p.m. Aug. 19, according to a Finney County dispatch center recording.
Knight said first responders arrived on the scene to find the facility evacuated and the Tyson hazmat team waiting.
“The Tyson emergency people, there’s just not enough good things you can say about them,” Knight said. “Our response time was just a matter of minutes, and the building was already evacuated and everyone accounted for by the time we got there. So we went right to fighting against the fire instead of dealing with other issues.”
The Tyson team was also able to help first responders with technical aspects of combating the blaze.
“For instance, we wanted to shut off the electricity to only the area of the fire, to avoid shutting down things like the freezers,” Knight said. “We called on them to lead us into the electrical area — I know I would’ve never found it otherwise — and helped determine what areas to shut off and what controls to use.”
The Tyson hazmat team was even equipped with gear similar to that used by firefighters on the scene.
“They even had the same air tanks that we use — they were right alongside us,” Knight said. “I can’t say enough about them; it would’ve been a long, long night without them.”
While fighting flames that would later collapse a portion of the roof on the building’s west end, first responders were showered with gifts of food and drinks donated by local schools, businesses and individuals.
“People instinctively responded, and we had more drinking water than we needed,” Knight said. “Food also, and Gatorade, you name it.
“It sounds like a small thing — well, it sounds like we’re having a barbecue with a disaster going on — but it’s very necessary. We have to stay hydrated, especially with the heavy equipment we wear and with how humid the night was. The energy bars and similar items people drop off are God-sent, to be honest with you.”
That synergy was crucial to driving the destructive evening toward a happy ending. According to Rick Collins, Garden City Fire Department interim chief, GCFD and other local agencies felt adequately prepared in terms of firefighting equipment, yet still walked a fine line between preparedness and resource exhaustion.
“Manpower is always the biggest issue, and you always wonder when your manpower is going to run out,” Collins told a federal delegation visiting the community last week. “We’re not like other cities — we don’t have mutuality (with other departments).
“We’re stuck out here on our own little island, and rely on a lot of the smaller volunteer departments. If those (firefighters) are harvesting or planting, we might get one or two.”
Crises like the Tyson fire often turn into a fast-paced game of resource management for the isolated department, Collins said.
“We have to quickly decide what and who we are going to bring out,” Collins said. “We can’t take all the experts out of town and leave all the new guys in town. We have to leave some of our other firefighters back at the station in case we have a second fire, another call or a rescue.”
Telegram Staff Writer Amber Friend contributed to this report.