Hazardous Materials exercise provides chance to improve skills

A saddle tank on the tractor-trailer truck gushed several steady streams of colored fuel. Against the tire, the injured patient, his eyes splashed with diesel fuel, lay at an awkward angle. A second fuel line poured more fuel into a nearby storm drain, ultimately ending up in a small nearby creek. Similar scenes to this are common in Chester County when there is a similar accident.

That’s one of the reasons why the Chester County Emergency Management Agency, Chester County EMS, Chester Regional Medical Center and several fire departments conducted a Hazardous Materials transportation exercise Thursday morning, said Chester County EMA Director Eddie Murphy. The scenario with the tractor-trailer truck was this year’s simulated accident and the “victim” who got splashed with diesel fuel was a Rescue Randy practice dummy and the “fuel” was water dyed a convincing color of diesel fuel.

The firefighters of the Chester Fire Department have recently been training for just such an incident involving a hazardous spill of chemicals or fuel, with training props provided by the EMA through a HMEP (Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness) grant.

Once the fuel spill was contained and plugged, and the patient decontaminated and transported, the teams set up for mitigation – containment and cleanup of a hazardous material (fuel in this case) at a nearby pond. This part of the exercise used a portable “boom,” actually a portable dam, which contained the spill in the pond and allowed it to be cleaned up.

The entire exercise was observed by firefighters from different fire departments in the county and was recorded for posterity and later review purposes by a camera drone overhead, courtesy of the Catawba Regional Council of Governments.

“Our planners worked really hard on this exercise,” Deputy EMA Director Ed Darby told the exercise participants, “and we’re training on some type of incidents that are really happening. The other day, we had a tabletop exercise on this same scenario and half an hour later, we had a call out towards Great Falls,” he said.

“Within 30 minutes of the tabletop exercise, a garbage truck was stuck in a creek,” said Murphy.

He said the importance of exercises like this is it, “gets us used to working with different groups of all the entities that have to come together on a fire scene or an incident scene at one time, to handle the situation.

“This is an exercise that simulates the least degree of hazard – the release of some diesel fuel, but a response like this has to happen. We also deal with protecting the water and the streams and cleaning up the hazardous materials. An exercise like this gives us a chance to come together as a group, work together and learn faces and people in the other agencies, so when you have a real incident, everything runs a lot smoother,” Murphy said.

By Brian Garner, Staff Reporter with The News & Reporter