Responders juggle what-ifs in tabletop drill

Bill Powell/The Herald
About 60 local police, firefighters, emergency medical service staff, dispatchers, hospital personnel, hazmat technicians, safety and environmental managers, Dubois County Emergency Management Agency staff and city and county elected officials gather in the Memorial Hospital Medical Arts Conference Room as the Dubois County Local Emergency Planning Committee hosts a tabletop exercise.

By BILL POWELL
bpowell@dcherald.com

JASPER — Responders expected to move fast during workplace emergencies met Monday to juggle what-ifs and engage in rapid-fire theorizing.

About 60 local police, firefighters, emergency medical service staff, dispatchers, hospital personnel, hazmat technicians, safety and environmental managers, Dubois County Emergency Management Agency staff and city and county elected officials gathered in the Memorial Hospital Medical Arts Conference Room as the Dubois County Local Emergency Planning Committee hosted a tabletop exercise.

As opposed to a full-scale mock exercise that would find volunteers portraying actual victims, Monday’s training involved responders seated around tables brainstorming roles and responsibilities during a simulated scenario.

Matt Wells, an Indiana Department of Homeland Security/Fire & Building Safety Division arson investigator, facilitated and laid out a nightmare scenario: A leaky valve on a 150-pound chlorine cylinder at a local business releases significant levels of chlorine gas into the facility.

In his briefing, Wells gave a made-up business name (ABC Pool Supply), placed it along Third Avenue on the south side of Jasper and said, within minutes, several employees begin coughing and experiencing shortness of breath.

Evacuation begins but, Wells said, some employees collapse as they make their way into the parking lot and are on the ground gasping for air.

The facilitator says the chlorine release is being contained within the structure but there is a possible later threat to those in adjoining businesses.

To decide what should happen next, players in the drill huddle in breakout groups by discipline: dispatchers, firefighters, hazmat technicians and EMS crews.

When Wells questions firefighters, spokesman and Jasper Volunteer Fire Department Chief Kenny Hochgesang has answers for everything from notifying response agencies to alerting nearby facilities.

“It sounds good,” Wells responds in a skeptical tone. “I don’t know if it’s going to go that smooth but it sounds good.

“What kind of equipment are you going with?” Wells asks, drilling down for more detail and explaining, “It’s better to work the kinks and bugs out here than at that time.”

The county hazmat team would be called in for a toxic release like the one envisioned, with members gearing up in Level A suits so no skin was exposed.

During the drill, Ferdinand Volunteer Fire Department Chief John Hoppenjans had a question for hazmat technicians.

If hazmat techs in Level A suits were not yet present, and he could see someone inside ABC Pool Supply who could not make it out, Hoppenjans asked, would he be allowed to make entry in his turnout gear and self-contained breathing apparatus to get them out?

Hazmat technician Donnie Heim, a captain with the Huntingburg Volunteer Fire Department, said that would be a personal choice for each responder, adding: “I’d do it all day long.”

Hoppenjans agreed.

“The risk is worth the reward,” the chief said.

The drill wrapped after two hours of discussions that also touched on sheltering in place, victim triage, decontamination and transport.

County EMA Director and LEPC chair Tammy Humbert says planners will now look for a physical location where the same scenario can be used for a full-scale county mock disaster drill in the spring.




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