08/24/05 — County holds haz-mat training exercise

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County holds haz-mat training exercise

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on August 24, 2005 1:45 PM

New Hope and Belfast volunteer fire departments, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base firefighters, law enforcement and rescue personnel are learning how to handle a hazardous materials situation.

About 50 people from the different agencies responded to a staged five-hour exercise, an accident involving a truck with 3,000 live turkeys on Race Track Road in eastern Wayne County.

Mel Powers, the assistant Emergency Services coordinator, and Phil Shivar, the president of the Wayne County Firemen's Association and assistant Indian Springs fire chief, called the recent exercise a big success.

"Not only did it help the first-responders in setting up and using the decontamination equipment but it also showed us if other equipment were needed," Powers said. "After it was over, we felt comfortable with what we have to offer. We're ready to serve our citizens."

Shivar added that part of the training was funded through a $57,000 federal grant. The county unveiled its new decontamination trailer that was bought 18 months ago with a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The trailer is kept with the Belfast Fire Department.

With the grant, the county also bought 10 thermal imagers and seven gas monitors. The thermal imagers will pinpoint the location of a fire inside a building, thus preventing possible injuries to firefighters and unnecessary salvage work. The gas monitors will detect potentially harmful gases. The thermal imagers and the gas monitors will be spread out among the volunteer departments.

Powers explained the exercise like this:

After the "accident" occurred, first-responders determined that it was a hazardous materials event. But the first-responders and company employees involved in recovering the turkeys became contaminated with a hazardous material. First-responders blocked the road until sheriff's deputies arrived to handle traffic control.

As a result of the first-responders' discovery, the Seymour Johnson's hazardous-materials entry team and the county's decontamination team were summoned. They set up a "hot zone" where the material was found.

The base entry team entered the hot zone with equipment to monitor and take samples of the material. Then the team checked the patients and found that seven first-responders and four company employees were decontaminated. The entry team then did a "gross" decontamination, spraying the 11 patients with the New Hope Fire Department's ladder truck.

Then the patients went through a technical decontamination with the county's incident support unit. Three lines were set up in tents -- one for men, women and non-ambulatory patients. After they went through the first time, their clothes were removed and they were given gowns for a second decontamination.

At the same time, Sheriff's Detective Sgt. Dean Roscoe, who was on call, was summoned to determine if the incident was an accident or intentional.

Powers said a similar exercise had been done but not with the base entry team.

"It all came together," he said. "Especially Seymour Johnson. They never know when they'll be deployed."