An incident earlier this week has raised concerns - again - on the part of Fire Chief David Hudgins where Atmos Energy’s response time to an emergency is concerned.

Construction workers broke into a gas line early Tuesday afternoon near Farm-to-Market 66 and Interstate 35, with police and fire personnel responding to secure the scene and direct traffic away from the spewing natural gas.

Hudgins said it was several hours before an Atmos work crew arrived to repair the damage.

A message left with an Atmos representative on Wednesday had not been returned by press time this morning.

The fire department arrived at 1:28 p.m. and contacted Atmos, Hudgins said, noting the Texas Dpartment of Transportation also was contacted, with the traffic at FM 66 and the interstate shut down (the interstate itself was not affected).

“We shut (FM 66) down and called for the gas company and 1-1/2 hours later a rep shows up to verify we need a work crew,” Hudgins said. “It’s three hours into this incident before a work crew shows up. It’s totally irresponsible. .. They just don’t have their priorities in order in my opinion.”

Hudgins questions why Atmos doesn’t believe fire officials when they report there is a break in the main with gas escaping and go ahead and dispatch a work crew.

“It’s very aggravating. It’s like they can’t take our word for it,” he said. “Ever since deregulation, the service has gone down. … (Incidents like this) tie up our police and firefighters.”

Hudgins said delayed responses from utility companies are understandable when there are multiple emergencies requiring a response, such as a storm that has downed several lines. He said he knew of no other circumstances Monday that would have caused a delay, however.

“I reported this to the state the last time it happened and I will report it again,” Hudgins said.

The previous incident involving a slow response time was in April 2006, when a gas line was struck by construction crews in downtown Waxahachie. An article in the Daily Light indicated a crew didn’t arrive to cut off the gas until 2-3/4 hours later.

As with this most recent incident, an Atmos rep went to the scene first to verify the leak. The rep then called for a work crew.

In an interview at the time, the Atmos spokesman told the Daily Light the response time was “reasonable.”

“Safety is our No. 1 concern,” manager of public affairs Rick Holden said at the time. “All leak investigation orders take priority.”

Hudgins filed a complaint with the Railroad Commission and its Pipeline Safety Division.

The disposition of the 2006 complaint was not immediately available.

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