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Weekend chemical scare tests first responders preparedness

By By Lisa Tindell
Cleaning up a chemical spill in Atmore Saturday night was a good test of skills for first responders, Escambia County Emergency Management Agency Director David Adams said.
Atmore police received a 911 call at 10:42 p.m. Saturday from a gas station and convenience store at Highway 21 and I-65, where a caller said an “unknown” chemical had been dumped.
James Anthony Bagwell, 24, of Atmosphere Road in Atmore was charged with criminal littering and criminal mischief in connection with the incident, Police Chief Jason Dean said. Bagwell is accused of having poured the chemical from a plastic container at the scene, police said.
Dean said the chemical was “mineral acid,” a chemical often used in masonry to clean off bricks. The chemical formed a cloud when it was poured out, and bystanders did not know what the substance was.
Atmore Fire Chief Gerry McGhee said his crew arrived at the scene in response to the hazardous materials call.
Poarch Creek Indians Tribal Emergency Management Director April Sells said her department was ready for the event.
Sells said the initial call came in to assist the Atmore Fire Department with an “unknown” chemical situation.
McGhee said firefighters from Walnut Hill offered their assistance in response to the situation.
Sells said her crew took command of the situation since they were the first to arrive at the scene. Sells said the Poarch Fire Department is lucky to have an experienced crew of hazardous materials handlers on staff.
Sells said funding from the Department of Homeland Security had made it possible for their department to be prepared with equipment needed in such situations.
Capt. Ronald Peebles with the Atmore Fire Department agreed.
Adams said the situation could have been deadly, but fortunately that was not the case Saturday night.
Although responding departments assessed, treated and cleared the scene of the incident, Adams said that may not always be the case.
Adams said there were no injuries or illnesses reported as a result of the incident.
Agencies responding to the scene included Atmore Police Department, Atmore Fire Department, Atmore Ambulance Service, Poarch Fire Department, Poarch Police Department, Walnut Hill Volunteer Fire Department and Alabama State Troopers.