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Tampa Electric's call to 911 in coal-slag deaths: 'You should get somebody out here'

TAMPA — Newly released audio from a 911 call conveys confusion and shock as workers at the Big Bend Power Station discovered six men had been severely burned by molten, lava-like slag erupting from a coal tank last week.

When an employee first called 911 from the control room of the Tampa Electric Co. plant, it was for an ambulance to help one man. But as the three-minute, six-second call progressed, the scope of the disaster emerged, detail by detail.

One man turns to two. Then four. Then two go into shock.

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue would later discover that senior plant manager Michael McCort, 60, and contract employee Christopher Irvin, 40, had died and five others suffered severe burns while using pressure washers to unclog a plugged tank full of deadly slag reaching temperatures more than 1,000 degrees.

Marine and Jones worked for Gaffin, like Irvin, the Times reported Friday. Navarrete and Perez worked for BRACE Industrial Group, the Times reported, along with an unidentified fifth worker, who was treated at the hospital and released.

The following are excerpts from the emergency call made by Tampa Electric:

Four workers injured at the Tampa Electric plant remained in the hospital Wednesday with life-threatening burns: Antonio Navarrete, 21, and Armando J. Perez, 56, both of Wimauma; and two Tampa men related by marriage, Frank Lee Jones, 55, and his stepson, Gary Marine Jr., 32.

911 operator: Hillsborough County Fire Rescue. What's the address of the emergency and what's the phone number you're calling from?

Male Tampa Electric employee: We have contractors here who were opening up one of our slag tanks and apparently it has blown open and somebody is burnt real bad.

911: Male or female?

RELATED: Third worker dies from Tampa Electric power plant accident

Employee: There's another — gosh, darn it, there's another man down. Okay. I'm sorry I'm, I'm, go ahead.

911: That's okay. So there's two patients now?

Employee: Officially I'm calling about one. Nobody said anything about two. Nobody's called up here, nothing official yet.

911: Okay. Do you know how old the patient is?

Employee: Oh, hold on just a second hold on (speaking briefly into another radio) Alright we're going to need more than one ambulance apparently now.

911: So now it's two patients?

Man: From what I understand, yes. A couple of - yes - At least two.

911: Is anything still burning or smouldering?

BACKSTORY: Two dead, four injured after 'major incident' at TECO power plant

Employee: (Speaking into another radio: Oh my god, are you kidding me?) I'm sorry, hold on. I'm listening to the radio. We've got two men injured in another area. What is going on here? I don't know if it's related.

911: Okay. Is anything still burning or smouldering?

Employee: Ma'am, I've been in the control room. I can find out for you.

911: Yes, I need you to find out so we know how many engines to send

Employee: Okay so no, there's nobody, there's nothing burning. It's just slag that comes out and its hot. There's nothing on fire. I haven't heard that.

911: Is everyone else safe and out of danger right now?

Employee: Everyone who is not necessary is out of the way I'm sure. Only the operators, and they're assisting.

Contact Anastasia Dawson at adawson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.

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