The Pantex Fire Department is ready to serve Pantexans 24/7/365. But did you also know they also respond to requests for mutual aid in the communities surrounding Pantex?
That’s right. The Pantex Fire Department (PXFD) averages 52 calls per year from agencies in the surrounding communities for not only assistance with wild land fires, structure fires, and motor vehicle accidents, but also with medical assistance with the Pantex ambulance.
“The fire department averages 26 responses for structure fires, wild land fires or motor vehicle accidents and 26 responses for medical assistance with our ambulance per year,” Pantex Fire Captain Sean Fox said. “We can and have responded to rescues in Palo Duro Canyon with our rescue team.”
According to Pantex Fire Chief Mike Brock, the PXFD responds to one or two requests for mutual aid per week, but they are currently seeing an increase in the number of requests due to the declining number of volunteers available in the surrounding communities.
“Other than Amarillo, the fire departments in the communities around the plant are all staffed by volunteers, and many of them struggle to have enough responders, especially during the day,” Brock said.
A recent example of mutual aid was a call for a house fire in Panhandle, Texas, on Saturday, February 23. The Panhandle Fire Department had only two volunteers respond to the call and PXFD responded to a request for mutual aid to assist in the structure fire.
Bonnie and Justin Whitehead, who are both Pantexans and volunteer with the Panhandle Fire Department, responded to the call for the Panhandle FD.
“My husband and I were the only ones that showed up for our fire department and were a little anxious about that situation,” Bonnie Whitehead said. “When the guys form the Pantex FD showed up, they immediately jumped into action. All the guys fought tirelessly to try and save the home. The Pantex FD is always willing to aid the Panhandle FD in any situation and it is greatly appreciated.”
The Battalion Chief on shift each day makes the determination of when the PXFD will respond to a mutual aid request, but the plant always remains the department’s primary responsibility.
“We respond as long as we can still support plant operations when responding off plant site,” Captain Fox said.
In addition to full-time firefighters, the PXFD utilizes a Fire Department Support Team (FDST) made up of volunteers from across the plant. These volunteers are not trained for interior firefighting, but provide support for most other aspects of the fire department operations on an emergency scene.
“They may be called up to assist in a mutual aid wild fire response if the need arose and they were able to respond,” Fox said. “There is not a requirement that they have to respond, but when notified they respond when they are available and on plant site.”
The Fire Department’s mission is “Caring for People” and according to Chief Brock that includes not only Pantexans but also the local communities.
Captain Fox echoes those thoughts and says PXFD’s willingness to assist neighbors gives them an opportunity to learn from one another.
“I feel that it is our responsibility as community neighbors to assist when we are needed,” Fox said. “We can bring resources (equipment, trained personnel, and apparatus) that they may not have access to without our support. By meeting with and working with them they also become more comfortable to assist us on site should the need ever arise.”
The PXFD is staffed 24/7/365 with firefighters working 24 hours shifts.
“Just like Security, our department is staffed and ready to respond at any time,” Chief Brock said. In addition to responding the emergencies on plant site and assisting with mutual aid requests in the surrounding communities, the PXFD also supports other functions within the plant.
“The fire department accomplishes monthly fire extinguisher inspections, building inspections, hot work permits,” Captain Fox said. “We also instruct new hire training, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), and fire extinguisher training for plant employees as needed.”
The National Weather Service (NWS) recently recertified the Pantex Plant (Pantex) as a StormReady community.
StormReady is a program that aims to mitigate the loss of life and property related to severe weather, and there are multiple requirements necessary to receive a StormReady designation.
“It requires that Pantex plan for and train our personnel on a number of severe weather-related events, mostly focused toward severe thunderstorms and tornados,” Pantex Emergency Preparedness Specialist Brian Veach said. “We also had to conduct training and drills as well as provide procedures and briefings to the site personnel.”
In addition, Pantex was required to demonstrate multiple methods to receive severe weather watches/warnings and had to show that there were procedures in place to communicate required protective actions to the plant population.
This designation is usually only sought by a city or county as very few companies have the resources and dedication to undertake the process. Because safety is a priority for Pantex, this designation demonstrates that commitment.
“Our drills and exercise program go above and beyond what the Department of Energy requires and really stress severe weather,” Veach said. “It’s not just the large site-wide drills or exercises, but we also run a number of facility-based shelter for severe weather drills.”
In addition to drills, Pantex also offers classes instructed by the NWS on severe weather storm spotting to all Emergency Management Department (EMD), Fire Department, Fire Department Support Team, and building/floor wardens.
Personnel from EMD also visited the local NWS office in Amarillo to increase cooperation and understanding of what information and services could be provided to Pantex.
“We participate in their Weather Ready Nation Ambassador program as well, which means we receive emails from the NWS with seasonal weather information and share that with our personnel on the site,” Veach said. “This helps increase the overall weather knowledge of the entire plant population.”
Part of the process to recertify included personnel attending a severe storm spotting class that trains personnel to recognize severe storm characteristics and report them accurately to the NWS in Amarillo.
Veach said management is committed to keeping personnel safe not only at work, but also at home.
“The information the company provides in training for severe weather is just as applicable at home as it is at work,” he said. “I can carry the skills and knowledge I’ve gained from work to my home, and that helps make my family safer.”
He continued by saying that people are Pantex’s #1 asset, and keeping everyone safe is vitally important to the site mission.
“Knowing how to remain safe when, not if, severe weather affects the plant means we have the skilled, trained, and dedicated personnel to continue our critical national security mission,” Veach said.
Personnel from Emergency Services and the Building Warden Program assisted Emergency Management in accomplishing this recertification.
“The building wardens are an essential part to this,” Veach said. “Emergency Management, and the larger Emergency Services Organization, cannot be everywhere when severe weather arrives. Having the highly skilled wardens available that can extend the reach of Emergency Management helps ensure everyone on the site is taken care of and remains safe.”
Veach also said the Plant Shift Superintendents are the first line of protection in severe weather.
“Those unseen heroes make regular contact with the National Weather Service to keep us all safe,” Veach said. “They play a major role in the site receiving severe weather notifications and directing the appropriate protective actions.”
Pantex was originally designated as StormReady in October 2015, and this was the site’s first full renewal in the program. Pantex was required to go through the entire recertification process, including a visit from the local StormReady board.
“The renewal process requires us to re-demonstrate this commitment to them at three-year intervals, with a spot check halfway through,” Veach said. “StormReady is not a once-and-done thing but a culture that exists on the site thanks to the hard work of a number of personnel including Emergency Services, Emergency Management, and all of our wardens.”
During National Engineers Week, Pantex Outreach and Leadership Organization visited Amarillo ISD schools and shared information on the field of engineering. Using simple and fun engineering activities, they taught students what it means to be an engineer and how they might reach that goal.
More than 200 students from 58 middle school and high school teams across the Texas Panhandle and South Plains gathered together for a competition of the minds in February at Science Bowl 2019.
Set up like a game show complete with buzzers and toss up and bonus questions, this competition saw teams of four students plus an alternate go head to head with competitors at the Pantex Regional Science Bowls held at West Texas A&M University in Canyon. Teams from 13 schools competed in the middle school competition held February 9, and 14 high schools were represented at the high school competition held February 23.
Ascension Academy took home top honors at the middle school competition, and Lubbock High Westerners placed first at the high school competition, each winning $1,000 for their science departments and all expense paid trips to Washington, D.C. and the National Science Bowl competition. This is Lubbock High’s second year in a row to claim the top spot in high school competition.
More than 150 volunteers give of their time two Saturdays each February to make these events a success. Each of the 15 competition rooms are staffed with of a moderator, timekeeper, rules judge, science judge, and runner, in addition to many other volunteers behind the scenes who set up and take down competition rooms, tabulate scores, check in teams, take photos and video, and keep things running smoothly.
Pantex has sponsored the regional competitions for more than 25 years with a goal to provide STEM opportunities for students in the Panhandle and South Plains.
Throughout National Engineers week, February 17-23, Pantex celebrated with internal and external engineering-focused activities. From engineers reaching out to students, to students showing off their skills to Pantexans, Engineers Week was a time to celebrate whether you’re an engineer or not.
Perhaps the most talked about Engineers Week event was the robotics demonstration by the Bushland Independent School District robotics team. Three Bushland teams, one each from elementary, middle school, and high school, showcased their latest robots in the John C. Drummond Center Cafeteria on February 19. Pantexans stopped by to talk with the budding engineers and see their robots in action.
“We’re happy and excited to show off what we do,” Christina Butler, robotics coordinator at Bushland, said. “Pantex gave us numerous grants to help us start the program up, which has been phenomenal.”
Since 2015, CNS has given $30,000 to Bushland Robotics. The sponsorship aims to give more STEM opportunities to students. Because of the program, Bushland participates in the annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in Texas robotics competition — an advantage they do not waste. Their middle school and high school teams advanced to the state competition this year.