Dangerous experiences, unusual locales and a history of leadership define Ron Sommers’ career as a fire fighter.
As the senior fire protection and emergency response specialist at the Kemper County energy facility, Sommers is responsible for ensuring all plant emergency response systems are functioning properly.
But his hope, one that he isn’t afraid to say aloud, is that he’ll be bored at work. Really bored.
“The most successful emergency response is one that doesn’t happen because the systems and inspections to prevent an incident are in place and followed,” Sommers said.
Sommers will also be in charge of the Kemper facility’s fire department, consisting of one battalion chief, three captains and 15 firefighters. The team will respond to fires, technical rescues, emergency medical and hazardous material (HAZMAT) incidents 24 hours a day.
“Right now, the joke on-site is that I’m the fire chief of the sixth largest city in Mississippi,” said Sommers. “But that’s only between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday to Friday.”
Sommers joined Mississippi Power in Nov. 2012, but his career as a firefighter began in Pasadena, Texas, in the 1980s. From there, he worked at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and Ellington Air Force Base in Houston before working for fire departments in several Texas municipalities.
He began his industrial firefighting and emergency response career with Chevron, travelling from Texas to Alaska to Africa to develop fire departments at plants and refineries.
“I’ve worked in the oil fields of west Texas, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and South Africa and Angola,” said Sommers. “I was a part of the team that developed those country’s fire service training programs and two internationally accredited fire departments.”
While working in Angola, Sommers was charged with developing an American-style fire department at Chevron’s oil processing facility and terminal in the Cabinda province. More than 1 million barrels of oil per day are processed at the plant, which houses more than 6,000 workers.
Sommers says there was very little modern equipment. In addition, he had to learn to speak Portuguese to get the instructions across to his team of locals. After two years, the group became the first sub-Saharan fire department to be internationally certified.
“We responded to the same types of emergencies that all firefighters face, with one exception,” recalled Sommers. “Angola is home to some of the most dangerous snakes on Earth. Black cobras, spitting cobras, black and green mambas and more are all indigenous. The team had to attend a two-week snake handling school in South Africa to learn how to apply anti-venom.”
At Kemper, Sommers is in charge of a fire department that is the only one of its type across the Southern Company system. The crew works a 24 hours on, 48 hours off rotation. They sleep in the facility and remain at the ready in case there’s an emergency that requires their assistance.
Laura Connor, the environmental, health and safety manager at Kemper noticed shortly after meeting Sommers that he’s always in the “what if” and planning mode. She also noted his infectious attitude.
“Ron is always in a good mood. He’s here to help, and he truly means it,” Connors said. “From an emergency responder perspective, his knowledge is critical. The guys on his team and across the plant have come to respect him, not just because of his background, but also because of the decisions he’s made since he’s been here.”
But once again, he’s hoping preparation and proactive planning will be the calling card of his crew in Kemper County.
“Our goal is to be the best trained, least experienced fire department around,” said Sommers.