Africatown Community Meeting about the recent Warehouse Fire
It has been three weeks since the community meeting about the recent warehouse fire in Africatown and I am still trying to process what I saw and heard during the REAL community meeting conducted on August 7th about that fire. Who were the victims of that fire, Africatown residents or the business community? The community meeting was asked for by members of Africatown’s two environmental organizations C.H.E.S.S. and MEJAC because of a number of calls from Africatown residents concerning the fact that there had been nothing said about the fire to community members. On Thursday, August 3rd, MEJAC got confirmation from Councilman Carroll that he would be able to conduct the meeting on Monday August 7th. That did not give us much time to get the word out to the community, however we have some dedicated C.H.E.S.S. team members that immediately went to work. Led by Joycelyn Davis and Miya Packer, our team of Africatown youths, ages 10 – 15, were able to distribute 300 flyers throughout the community on Saturday and place more in the churches on Sunday. As a result, The Community Center’s Multipurpose room was crowded with Africatown residents attending the meeting.
After Councilman Carroll called the meeting to order, the first person up to speak was Guy Oswalt, Merchants Transfer Company Director of Real Estate. He read from a fact sheet that had been distributed that had 2 dates on it; July 19th or the day of the fire and an updated date of August 4th or the day after Carroll confirmed that he would conduct this community meeting. Also speaking was Mobile County Health Officer Dr. Kevin Michaels and former Prichard Fire Department Chief David Hale. Some of the things they mentioned were: The fire was not deemed a threat to residents, a call to ADEM revealed that there were no hazardous contaminants in the air, There were no injuries reported from the fire, the warehouse did not store hazardous materials, Merchants remains in compliance with the recently enacted “Safety Zone” for the community, Merchants has participated in two Africatown Community meetings related to the fire before this one, Did anyone dial 911 to report ill effects from the fire, If you have a window air conditioner, please turn it off so it will not pull fumes into your home, leave home if you feel in harms way, The firefighters cannot be expected to answer your calls, go to your house if you feel ill and fight the fire also.
Both C.H.E.S.S and MEJAC lobbied hard to have it spelled out in Mobile’s new zoning & code ordinance law that a lawful community meeting has occurred after residents have been given ample notice about the meeting and the meeting is conducted at a reasonable public facility and at a time when most residents might be able to attend. I remember as a young pre teenager, my grandfather and I were watching the Dodgers play baseball on Saturday when Nelson Adams and John Kidd knocked on the door and asked my grandfather to go with them to The Masons Hall down the street to see what was going on. Of course, I tagged along. When we got there, there were 3 white men in a suit and tie and 3 elderly blacks from the community sitting down listening to them. The 3 white men had some papers that they seemed to be trying to explain to the residents. Nelson Adams eventually told them to leave and not come back again. In a more updated version of “What is not a community meeting”, after the oil company begin laying an oil pipeline through our school yard it was revealed that a community meeting had been conducted and the community knew this pipeline was coming. Of course, no one in the community admitted to knowing anything about a meeting and knew nothing about the pipeline.
Someone in the audience mentioned that local industries in and around Africatown provide jobs to Africatown residents. There are about 20 businesses in and around Africatown and if they can provide at least 5 names of Africatown residents working in those industries I will agree to that statement. How can ADEM say the quality of air is ok during the warehouse fire when there are no air monitors in Africatown. The Africatown Community has more heavy industries surrounding it than any other community in the city of Mobile and 3 of the top 5 polluting industries in Mobile County according to the EPA Toxic Data Report, but no monitors. There were several people that went to the hospital because of fumes from the fire and residents that had smoke in their houses for days during the fire. As far as not calling 911 or turning off your air condition, I would ask the question, “when are you going to conduct emergency drills for the community?”
The Africatown Community should have emergency drills conducted at least every 3 years because of industries in the area and our location to the water during hurricane season. The firemen perform well because they practice and have drills, most elderly people panic when there is an emergency and do not think of dialing 911 nor are they willing to shut off their air condition when the heat is near 100 degrees.
Concerning The Africatown Safe Zone, it is the warehouse itself that is a safety hazard. Three fires in three years is unacceptable and that warehouse should not be rebuilt in that area. It is to close to residential houses.
And oh yea, by the way, I also believe that any Africatown resident that visited the hospital, had to leave their home, had fumes in their home or felt threaten by the fire should be compensated with an amount starting at $50,000.00
Dr. Major Joe Womack USMCR (ret.)
Executive Director of africatown-chess.org
Co-Founder of africatownhpf.org
Leader, Doer, Storyteller