Operation “Lethal Vapor” HazMat Drill a Success for the Region

October 18, 2011

by Martha Martin

HazMat Drill "Lethal Vapor" of CO2

On Saturday morning October 15th a Hazardous Materials (HazMat) drill was held in the Port of Camas-Washougal Industrial park. This regional drill, hosted by East County Fire & Rescue and Skamania County Fire Department No.4, was funded by the Department of Homeland Security.

The drill focused on an accidental release of a chemical that affects a passing school bus.  Responders from Clark County and Skamania County provided emergency response, initial decontamination, and emergency medical care. Regional assets responded due to chemical involvement and the large number of patients. These included a Decon (decontamination) Shower, the Regional HazMat Team, MCI (Mass Casualty Incident) Trailer, and more. The Red Cross provided mass shelter and mass care for the players (initially) and emergency responders. This is the second large-scale drill held in the region.

Fire Fighter observing Haz Mat Drill

The HazMat drill provided the opportunity for the four-county Region to practice responding to a large-scale or complex incident.  (Clark Co, Cowlitz Co, Skamania Co, and Wahkiakum Co are in the Region).  Responders had the opportunit practice communicating with emergency units from the four-county Region, as well as exercise the Regional Communications Plan.

The objective was to coordinate between agencies and organizations that would be involved in a real-life incident and evaluate the strengths of each group, individually and as a whole, and determine where improvement is needed.

HazMat "victims" and helpers

The scenario was this: a local school bus filled with high school kids becomes contaminated by a lethal chemical leak from a rail tanker.  A tanker simulated a chemical leak of toxic ammonia by emitting carbon dioxide into the air along the tracks in the south Industrial Park area.

The simulated leak was presented as a result of human error—a valve was not closed completely.  Kemira Chemical Company and Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s provided assistance in hosting and supporting this drill.

US Coast Guard Helicopter

During the drill, the Regional Haz Mat Team mitigated the chemical leak while other responders decontaminated the children and a few adults, and provided medical care.  LifeFlight and the US Coast Guard were scheduled to provide helicopters for medical transport.  LifeFlight needed to respond to another call, so the Coast Guard helicopter was available during the drill.

Regional Response brings many responders

New Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) protocols were tested, which are designed to improve scene efficiency, as well as patient care.  Having responders from the various counties, working together using these new protocols, is very important.  This practice is vital—and better prepares responders to deal with large numbers of ill or injured patients.

ECFR Chief Scott Koehler and Skamania District 4 Donna Rae Querry

East County Fire and Rescue and Skamania County Fire District were the coordinators of this large event.  Chief Scott Koehler of ECFR was the Planning Operations Chief, and Donna Rae Querry of Skamania County District 4 was the Operations Sections Chief.  Wes Long of ECFR was Incident Commander, as Mike Carnes of ECFR was Safety Officer. ECFR Commissioner Gary Larson was in attendance.

WashougalHigh Schooldrama students were the “victims”, as well as two adults. They provided realism, enthusiastically acting their roles throughout the drill.

HazMat Equipment

One of the Region’s MCI trailers was used to provide the large amount of medical supplies needed to deal with significant numbers of patients.  Also during this drill, the trailer’s oxygen distribution system was needed to “treat” the large number of patients.

Decontamination Shower

The Regional Hazardous Materials Team was on the scene from the Vancouver Fire Department.  They have the specialized training and equipment to deal with chemical incidents.

Since ammonia is caustic, and irritates the skin, the patients were decontaminated with water.  One of the Region’s Decontamination Shower was used to better clean the patient’s skin after Fire Fighters performed initial decontamination using fire hoses.  There are several Decon shower units located throughout the Region.

Red Cross serving food

The Red Cross practiced their Mass Care and Feeding plan.  They provided hot drinks to the patients and fed the Responders and Players at the end of the drill.

There were over a dozen different agencies (fire, EMS, police, search & rescue, Life Flight, US Coast Guard, Red Cross) with about 120 Responders, Players and Helpers—most of them being Volunteers.  The Department of Homeland Security helped to offset the costs associated with this drill.