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Officials Say Lessons Learned From Kinston Plant Fire

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KINSTON, N.C. — For most Apex residents, the flames, smoke and tension of the EQ chemical fire last week were like nothing they had ever experienced. But in Lenoir County, the images are all too familiar.

"We understand exactly what they're going through," said Lenoir County Emergency Services Director Roger Dail.

In January 2003, a large explosion ripped through the West Pharmaceutical Plant in Kinston. Six workers died, and several others were seriously injured. Like the Apex crews, many first responders in Kinston suddenly faced the largest and potentially most dangerous scenes of their career.

"We understand from a first responder standpoint what it's like to pull up on a scene like that and see the magnitude of what you have," Dail said.

Dail said the experience has taught the county's rescue workers many lessons that can't be learned from training alone. He said he believes his departments are now better prepared for any disaster.

After the smoke cleared, West Pharmaceutical had to decide whether to rebuild its plant. Losing the company would have meant the permanent loss of about 200 jobs for Kinston.

"If you pulled those folks out, it would be detrimental to our community," said Mark Pope with Lenoir County Economic Development.

Pope was one of many residents who urged the company to stay. In 2004, West Pharmaceutical reopened the plant on a new site in town and brought back nearly every job from the original facility. The new plant is now up to full production.

The shell of the old plant still stands due to pending litigation.

"It's tough," Pope said. "It's not something you get over in three years. You still remember. You just rebuild and move on."


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