Multiple agencies participate in mock hazmat drill
Early Thursday morning, dozens of emergency crews, fire and medical responders rushed to the scene of an accident in Landis where a rail car collided with a bus. There were a number of people injured and confirmed dead. The collision caused a hazardous spill that resulted in the evacuation of area residents.
The above scenario did occur, but it was all a multi-jurisdictional training exercise using not only emergency responders but area volunteer agencies to give them a chance to test their skills.
Dozens of emergency responders, volunteers and media members gathered for a morning briefing as the exercise began in downtown Kannapolis.
The incident culminated at Pinnacle Corrugated in Landis and included area residents, who were notified of the drill, a church, the hospital and the South Rowan YMCA.
The scenario began with the train collision on an area of railroad track just yards from Pinnacle Corrugated, located at Pinnacle Way. The passengers on the bus were ejected, some “killed,” others impaled, burned or disoriented. The train was carrying methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), a flammable substance used to make solvents and in the production of some household items, including paint remover and varnishes. Emergency crews responded as if the scenario were real while others observed how they responded.
“We’ve been working for the last year or two to organize a large scale incident in the southern part of the county,” said Landis Fire Chief Reed Linn.
Once responders knew they wanted to conduct the drill, they connected with EnviroSafe, a North Carolina company that prepares emergency responders, private companies and law enforcement to handle crisis situations and hazardous material incidents.
Much of the planning really came together over the course of the last three months, Linn said, but began with an initial “tabletop” meeting with all of the agencies involved to determine their needs and goals for the exercise. EnviroSafe facilitated that planning meeting.
Linn called the exercise a tremendous way to help emergency personnel see how they work together and communicate with one another. He said it also helps them see what could be improved.
“This is the largest scale incident training that’s been held in southern Rowan County. Everybody has worked well together,” Linn said.
The EnviroSafe team created a scenario based on the responders’ goals and objectives, which were to respond to railroad incident that required multiple area agencies. The company looked at what regulations were already in place in Rowan and Cabarrus counties, as well as state and federal mandates to determine what processes the responders would have to undergo.
“They generally knew what they wanted and we coordinate the incident, much like a director of a movie,” said Derrick Duggins, executive director of corporate operations.
EnviroSafe made sure the incident was realistic and plausible. “We looked for opportunities for them to enhance their programs, identify improvements, if needed or what they did well and can build on,” Duggins said.
“The good benefit is it gives an opportunity for responders to know their rules and expectations they have in working with each other and community partners,” he said.
Many of the volunteers who portrayed victims in the scenario were students from Charles Seaford’s EMT training class. Others were nurse aide students in the program at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.
Seaford, who is a also on the China Grove town council, has been teaching basic EMT classes through RCCC since 1982. He teaches at the college’s Kannapolis campus.
Seaford and some volunteers created the burns, injuries and other wounds on the victims by using fake blood.
“We started about 7 a.m. or 7:15 a.m. and it took us an hour and a half to two hours to do the makeup,” He said.
One victim was supposed to be dead, while others received deep cuts and scratches.
Seaford said he and the rest of the volunteers wanted to make the wounds look as realistic as possible, “so the firefighters could get a real view of a traumatic injury.”
More than 20 victims were part of the scenario, eight of them “seriously injured” and the rest, Seaford said, were the “walking wounded.”
Volunteers created the wounds and gave the victims simple instructions. “They were told to play it up,” he said.
Some of the victims really committed themselves to a believable performance — shouting, crying and walking around delirious.
Seaford said it’s been some time since he’s participated in such a large-scale simulated disaster, but he has created similar exercises for his classes.
A number of volunteers with the American Red Cross were also being independently evaluated on their response in the scenario, said Red Cross Disaster Program Specialist Monica Bruns.
The volunteers with the Hanford Dole Chapter were evaluated by a Red Cross volunteer from another area and received positive feedback, Bruns said.
She said the Red Cross had 11 volunteers, which included two Rowan Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.) members.
During the simulation, residents had to be evacuated for a half mile around the accident area. The Red Cross set up a shelter area at the South Rowan YMCA.
The exercise tested the Red Cross volunteers’ ability to use community partners, she said.
The agency called upon the Salvation Army to employ its mobile kitchen to feed evacuees during the scenario. Bruns said she was in talks with local Salvation Army Lt. Josh Morse, who helped secure the mobile kitchen.
“We are there to support the community. It gave us an opportunity today to test our capabilities but also see how emergency personnel operate and to work alongside them. Even though it was a drill it was treated like a real world experience,” Bruns said.
Bruns has participated in tabletop exercises, but this was her first large exercise.
The police department went door-to-door letting residents know there was a drill in progress.
There were volunteers who were evacuated, sent to the shelter area and given a meal.
Chief Emergency Services Director Frank Thomason said they were extremely pleased with the outcome of the exercise.
“All the agencies came away from the event with a better understanding of responding to and managing this type of event,” he said.
Thomason said it was a good exercise and they are thankful to the towns of Kannapolis, Landis and China Grove.
“We thank Pinnacle Corrugated. When we do one of these full scale exercises it’s incumbent that we do have cooperation from the private sector and without those partnerships with Dupont Chemicals and Norfolk Southern, we wouldn’t be able to simulate those things. It helps us realistically practice to improve,” Thomason said.
“Any exercise that we have, that we plan, put together and execute, we do it to be able to test our response and look to any area of improvement,” Thomason said.
At the close of the exercise, all of the agencies involved were debriefed and will receive an action report of their performance from EnviroSafe at a later date.
“It will detail recommendations and we will use that document going forward to execute any updates and changes,” Thomason said.
The following agencies participated in the exercise: Landis Fire, China Grove Fire, Mount Mitchell Fire, Rockwell City Fire, Rockwell Rural Fire, Bostian Heights Fire, Atwell Fire, Locke Fire, Kannapolis Fire, Kannapolis HAZMAT, Salisbury Fire, Cabarrus County Emergency Management, Rowan-Salisbury HAZMAT, Rowan County 911 Communications, Kannapolis 911 Communications, Rowan Rescue Squad, Rowan EMS, Landis Police, NuCare Ambulance Service, Rowan County Fire Marshal’s Office, Rowan County Emergency Management Services, the Hanford Dole Chapter of the American Red Cross, Rowan Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.), Kannapolis Police, Rowan Department of Social Services, Rowan County Health Department, the town of China Grove, students from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s nurse aide and EMT classes, EnviroSafe, Salvation Army, Norfolk Southern, North Carolina Railroad Co., Pinnacle Corrugated, Dupont Chemicals.