A spokesman for Atmos Energy said officials with the utility company intend to meet soon to review an incident earlier this week in which a gas line break saw a several hour delay in being repaired.

The incident occurred Wednesday, with Waxahachie Fire Chief David Hudgins telling the Daily Light that about three hours passed before Atmos work crews arrived on scene to repair the rupture, which saw Farm-to-Market 66 shut down near its intersection with Interstate 35.

Hudgins criticized Atmos for not addressing the issue quicker, saying it tied up local fire and police personnel during the wait.

“We understand and appreciate their concerns,” Atmos director of public affairs Rick Holden said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have an office or facility in the immediate area.”

Holden said crews have to come in from DeSoto or Dallas.

“In this particular case, we did have other leaks in other locations, so physically the crews were in other places and unable to respond quicker,” he said.

Holden said he also understands Hudgins’ criticism about Atmos dispatching a service representative first to verify a leak.

“It’s very aggravating. It’s like they can’t take our word for it,” Hudgins told the Daily Light, questioning why Atmos won’t take the word of fire officials.

Holden said it’s not a matter of whether or not fire officials are believed, saying the utility is trying to best allocate its resources. Many times, he said, a service representative is able to go ahead and turn the gas off, which allows local emergency responders to disengage and keeps the utility from having to dispatch everything from backhoes to large trucks and an entire crew.

He acknowledges, however, the service representatives sometimes find circumstances where they are unable to turn off the gas by themselves, requiring the responders to stand by until a work crew arrives.

“We send a service rep out first to assess what the situation is,” Holden said, saying there is a concern about the process and that Atmos’ operations staff in Dallas will be meeting to evaluate the incident and see what possibly can be done to mitigate circumstances.

“Ideally, we’d like to have a service center in Waxahachie and Atmos would like to have one here too, but we have to look at it from a business perspective, as well,” he said, saying the utility company takes the issues “very seriously.”

Safety is the No. 1 concern for Atmos, Holden said, saying the company has “nothing but praise for the city of Waxahachie and its personnel for their response to emergency situations, such as this.

“We appreciate the city and we want to work closely with them as we partner and try and these situations resolved,” he said, noting a similar circumstance in downtown Waxahachie a little more than a year ago.

Relating to the incident on FM 66, Holden said it was his understanding the contractor had not requested a line location.

Anyone who is digging more than 18 inches in any location - even a personal backyard - is required under state law to request a dig test, Holden said.

“If you’re digging out in your backyard with a shovel and you’re going down below 18 inches you have to call dig test,” Holden said, noting the service includes locations for water, gas, electrical and other type lines. “It’s protection for everybody - for people and the utility companies - to help prevent stuff just like this from happening.

“It’s a law and it’s for your own safety,” Holden said. “No one wants to dig into an electrical line and get electrocuted or hit a gas line and have something like this happen.”

The toll-free number to call is 1-800-DIG-TESS.

E-mail JoAnn at editor@waxahachiedailylight.com