LEWIS CENTER — The Delaware County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) conducted a full-scale hazardous materials (hazmat) training exercise Monday, marking its return to in-person exercises following COVID-related limitations over the past year.
Typically, the LEPC conducts a training exercise every four years, but Monday’s drill marked the first in Delaware County since 2016.
The exercise, which took place at the eastern terminus of Home Road, included dozens of local fire, emergency medical, and law enforcement agencies from around Delaware County responding to a 911 call. In total, 11 different units responded to what was deemed a level three incident. Orange Township Fire Station 361 served as the launch point for the drill, and the Orange Township Fire Department took the lead at the scene.
All participants in the drill, which were referred to as “players,” were not previously informed of the circumstances of the drill, allowing situations to unfold and develop in real time at the scene.
On the scene, a collision was simulated involving a tanker and a minivan, which led to multiple injuries, one fatality, as well as an ongoing spill of water meant to simulate hydrofluoric acid. Volunteers, including some who have been participants in the county’s citizens academy, served as the victims in the drill. Also involved in the drill in various roles were three soon-to-be senior students from the Delaware Area Career Center’s firefighter program.
As part of the scenario, one victim was immediately rescued and transported to the OhioHealth Lewis Center Health Center, while a dummy at the crash site marked the lone fatality. Four more victims were said to have left the scene prior to emergency crews arriving, having made the short walk to the nearby OhioHealth medical center. Throughout the drill, “controllers” were on-site to inject various scenarios into the situation in order to put the different crews to the test.
An Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated at the Carnegie Building in Delaware, as is the protocol during drills, emergencies and events. The EOC was active in the drill, injecting its own scenarios into the situation while also corresponding with the crews at the scene. A Twitter account was created by the EOC for the event, sending out updates and orders to the public that were clearly marked as solely for the purpose of the drill.
Delaware County Commissioners Communications Coordinator Marisa Stith, who served as the public information officer at the scene, worked with local media members to provide updates at the scene as the situation evolved. Nonprofit organization Box 15 of Columbus was also on the scene to assist firefighters with drinks and cooling stations.
A hazmat team from the Delaware County Area Response Team was among the first on the scene, assessing both vehicles before eventually closing the valve that was causing the spill. As the situation was brought under control, Lt. Joseph Line, who served as the incident commander on the scene, said the spill in the scenario had also leaked into a storm drain, forcing them to “dike and dam” the drain while alerting the Environmental Protection Agency to the need for further investigation.
Speaking with the media following the drill, Line said he was very pleased with the efficiency and cohesion with which all the units worked while also having to adjust on the fly to some miscommunications that normally wouldn’t have been an issue in real-life situations.
“It went really well as far as everybody’s response times and gearing up, getting in there and shutting off the product as best we could,” Line said of the drill. “We have a few things we have to polish, just like every other incident, especially on such a large scale, low-frequency, high-risk event. We will polish up a few things. … We look forward to another training before long.”
Orange Township Fire Chief Nathan McNeil said of the drill, “When you have this many people partaking, there’s going to be some chaos. But overall, we met all of the objectives. We were able to see how we all work together. … We really did a good job.”
Asked how critical it is to be able to conduct live drills, McNeil said, “It’s huge. Definitely, in our job, it’s hard to simulate (incidents) inside or on a computer. Where the rubber meets the road, that’s where it’s important for us to come out here and practice with each other and go through the motions. Practice how you’re going to play, that’s the key thing. For us, it’s about knowing that when we have the real thing, we’ll be ready to go.”
Following the drill, all units reported back to Station 361 for a debriefing and evaluation of each unit’s response at the scene.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.