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Emergency services show off skills during mock accident drill

By Carol McIntire

Mock accident drillA tanker truck carrying hazardous materials overturned on SR 332 south of Carrollton Saturday morning adjacent to the stream that flows through the Algonquin Mill festival grounds.

The dispatcher on duty at the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department received a call at about 8:30 a.m. including information that a group of boy scouts was fishing downstream in the creek and a vapor was being released from the tanker.

Firefighters from Carrollton Village, Carroll County, Dellroy and Perrysville responded to the scene along with officials from EMT Ambulance and the Carroll County HAZMAT team responded to the scene.

Even though this accident could occur at any time on a highway within the county, Saturday’s event WAS ONLY A TEST.

It was a mock disaster exercise designed to test the skills of county emergency services in the case of a real accident.

Scott King, State Emergency Management liaison for District Six, said exercises of this type, called full-scale exercises, are held periodically as a way to evaluate the county Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) plan.

“Counties are required to have 14 key objectives included in their Local Emergency Plan,” he said. “Carroll County selected eight of the 14 for this exercise. They will be graded on each one which will help them evaluate their plan and determine what needs upgraded.” Objectives selected and met during the exercise included: incident assessment, incident command, emergency operations center, resource management, response personnel safety, population protective actions, emergency public information and shelter management.

Tom Cottis, Carroll County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) director, whose office coordinated the mock disaster, said rather than have the departments “run hot” or respond to the disaster without any prior knowledge it is was only a test, he felt it would be safer if the departments were staged at the Mill Festival grounds. “We talked this over a great deal before making a decision,” he said. “We felt that with the increased traffic on county highways, there was no need to put motorists at risk when the accident was not real. We decided to pre stage the event and to use a bridge and creek on the Mill Festival grounds rather than tie up SR 332.”

On Monday, Cottis termed the event “the most successful he’s been involved with since being named EMA director.”

“It went pretty well,” he said. “We met all of our objectives and did some things that surprised the state officials.”

Emergency crews at the scene sprayed water on the tanker to drive the airborne vapor to the ground. While this was taking place, the boys scouts were removed from the creek, ushered through the decontamination system set up by the HAZMAT team, evacuated from the scene by an EMT Ambulance bus and transported to a Red Cross shelter set up at the Carrollton Safety Center.

As the boys were enjoying pizza, emergency forces remained at the scene. Two members of the Hazmat team suited up and approached the tanker, shutting off the leaking valve. As they were making their way through the decontamination station, another crew, led by HAZMAT team member Mike Ruby, was busy constructing a dike in the creek to contain the vapors which had been pushed down to the water by the mist.

Carrollton Fire Chief Tom Melser, who served as incident commander at the site, explained to news media the objective of creating a dike in these type circumstances.

“They are building a syphon dike,” he said pointing to an area just downstream from a bridge where firemen were installing plastic and straw bales into the creek.

Once the straw was covered by the plastic, a piece of plastic culvert pipe was placed into the creek and dirt was used to build a dam. Two smaller diameter pieces of pipe were placed into the creek at a lower level near the large pipe.

“Since the water is heavier, it will flow through the pipes at a lower level and the sheen (the vapor pushed to the ground level by the mist of water), will stay on top and is trapped by the dam,” Mesler explained. “We can then use HAZMAT pads to skim the material from the water.”

As the water began flowing through the pipes as was designed, sweating and tired firefighters began to leave the creek with Ruby declaring the operation “a success.”

Cottis agreed. He was also pleased they were able to establish good communications between a dispatcher set up in the Incident Command Center at the site, the Red Cross shelter and the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) set up in the EMA office at the Carroll County Fairgrounds.

“We now know we have the ability to use UHF to establish communication using radios and not tie up the dispatch center at the Sheriff’s office,” Cottis said.

“We met all our objectives and did some things very well. We also saw some things we need to work on,” he said. “We tried to make the scenario as realistic as possible and it worked.”

King said the EMA office will receive a complete report in about 30 days.

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