“All we charged them for was the deputies we had to call in. ... It was way cheaper that what I thought it would be.” Col. richie johnson West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office
PORT ALLEN — An investigation remains under way into the cause of the May 21 explosions and chemical fire at the Air Liquide Speciality Chemicals Plant near Erwinville, company spokesman George Smalley said Wednesday.
But what the incident is going to cost the company is starting to add up as agencies that responded to the aggressive fire began billing Air Liquide for the man-hours and equipment used during the 2½ days it took to extinguish the blaze and secure the site.
Emergency responders including the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Port Allen Fire Department have submitted bills totaling more than $50,000 for services related to the incident.
Emergency crews were called to the plant site around 10 a.m. May 21 after acetylene-filled cylinders caught fire and set off a series of explosions that led to the evacuation of more than 200 residents and shut down a stretch of U.S. 190 between Port Allen and Erwinville.
The highway was reopened and residents were allowed to return to their homes May 23. The plant resumed normal operations a week later.
The only person reported injured from the blaze was an Air Liquide employee who was treated for minor burns.
Smalley said Wednesday that the company’s investigation into the fire’s cause is ongoing and that he was hesitant to estimate when it would conclude.
“The best I can say is, it’s finished when it’s finished,” Smalley said. “They have to pursue additional information.”
The West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office issued Air Liquide a bill for approximately $33,000 in costs related to the fire, sheriff’s Col. Richie Johnson said.
The Sheriff’s Office is billing the company because the agency’s actions in regard to the fire and its aftermath was “outside its normal spectrum of emergency response,” Johnson said.
“It was declared a state of emergency that morning by the parish president,” he said.
Johnson said the Sheriff’s Office logged 904 man-hours operating roadblocks and providing support services.
About 50 sheriff’s deputies worked the fire and accrued $7,900 in overtime pay, which was billed to Air Liquide. Johnson said deputies also had to man about 15 roadblocks around the clock during the fire and its aftermath.
“We only billed them for 227 hours,” Johnson said Wednesday. “The rest we absorbed. We didn’t charge them for the employees that would have already been on duty during that time. All we charged them for was the deputies we had to call in.”
The remaining $25,100 the Sheriff’s Office is billing Air Liquide is related to equipment and meal costs for the evacuees the agency fed, he said.
“It was way cheaper than what I thought it would be,” Johnson said.
Firefighters from the Port Allen Fire Department and the Erwinville Volunteer Fire Department also joined in fighting the fire.
Port Allen Fire Chief Rick Boudreaux said his department billed Air Liquide a little more than $18,000 for its services.
Boudreaux said the 17 firefighters he assigned to work the fire clocked in 325 man-hours during the emergency.
Erwinville Fire Chief Robby Smith did not return calls Wednesday concerning his department’s billed hours.