Hamlet first responders recall horrors of Imperial Foods fire 25 years later

25 year anniversary of deadly plant fire

HAMLET, NC (WBTV) - For firefighters in Hamlet, North Carolina, frantic dispatches on the morning of September 3, 1991 were anything but typical.

The May Day call still rings in Chief Calvin White's psyche. He was a captain at the time, and his truck was the first to arrive at the burning Imperial Foods Plant.

"I called for every fire department and every rescue squad in the county," White said. "I had to move those souls. Those precious individuals twice that day."

Two and a half decades later, the recurring aftermath is still hard to shake for those who survived the accidental fire at the place that processed fried chicken.

The plant site is a community park and memorial site.

Recovery for Annette Zimmerman goes beyond physical injuries.

The trauma she faced has sent her to a mental health facility more than once.

"I spent plenty of time there unfortunately. It's because of nightmares, especially this time of year," she said.

Bobby Quick's strong feet powered through one of the many locked doors. His actions sprung several trapped co-workers to seek safety, but it came with a price.

"I messed my spine up in several places," he said.

Many challenges came for first responders on that day. Among the obstacle's they had to face, separating professionalism from their personal feelings.

Scott Waters is the Hamlet police chief.

Twenty-five years ago, he responded to this scene as a member of local rescue squad.

Waters recalls, "A lady got me and she grabbed my hand and she carried me to where my mom was at, and she was laid out on the street and there was a number of people around her."

His mother Martha Waters worked at plant and still battles health related issues.

"My mom I still have her," he said.

Twenty-five people died that day, 54 were injured, and years later those called to serve try to make sense of the jarring flashbacks.

"It's those types of memories that you take with you to your grave," Chief White said.

While flames and smoke inhalation were among contributing factors, Chief Calvin White wrestles with the polices and disregard for life carried out by the owners and operators of Imperial Foods.

"The doors being locked is very reason people died in that fire," White said.

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