Acid Leak Demonstrates Necessity of Strong Partnerships in Surry County, North Carolina
Late on a Friday night in September 2021, the multiple volunteer fire departments in Surry County, North
Carolina, were dispatched to a cloud of smoke coming from a private citizen's barn in the Beulah area west
of Mt. Airy. Upon arriving at the scene, the fire department responders quickly realized the cloud was not
smoke from a structure fire, but rather chemical fumes from a leak originating inside the building. After
determining that the source of the cloud was chemical in nature, the Surry County hazardous materials
(HAZMAT) team was immediately contacted to respond.
There was some worry about the chemical cloud moving to the next town, as some time was needed to
investigate the chemical substance and determine how best to proceed. Using social media and a mass
emergency notification system, Surry County sent alerts to residents within 5 miles of the chemical cloud to
notify them of the event. The area around the barn was evacuated and a perimeter was set up. The road on
which the barn is located was temporarily closed, and traffic was rerouted during the response.
Surry County has a paid HAZMAT team that responded, and they worked with firefighters to determine that the
source of the chemical cloud was a hydrochloric acid leak inside the building. According to a 2021 article
from the Mount Airy News, ‘Chemical
Cloud’ Prompts Emergency Response, the HAZMAT technicians neutralized the acid leak enough to
lessen the chemical fumes and a cleaning company specializing in HAZMAT situations was called to finish
cleaning the area.
Eric Southern, the Chief of Emergency Services for Surry County, shared, “For what this was and what
could have happened, it all went really well.”
Responders used social media and the county's mass emergency notification system to alert residents of the
incident. Yet, there were still some residents who were unaware that the chemical emergency was happening.
After the event, it was determined that the county's mass emergency notification system automatically adds
residents with a landline to the database, and residents with only a cell phone must sign up to receive
emergency alerts. Surry County updated their emergency response plan based on this information. They worked
with the county communications center to identify households without a landline and to do outreach and
education about signing up for alerts from the emergency notification alert system.
Chief Southern stressed the importance of developing and maintaining strong relationships before a disaster
happens. For example, the Surry County HAZMAT team has an existing relationship with the cleaning company
that cleaned up the area of the response. This partnership supported a complete response.
Eric Southern, Chief of Emergency Services
Surry County Emergency Services
Opinions expressed are those of the interviewee(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Rural
Health Information Hub.