NC responders participate in mock meth lab training

Around 80 emergency responders participated in the scenario that involved wrecked cars and accident victims

By Beth Lawrence
The Laurinburg Exchange

LAURINBURG, N.C. — A mock mobile meth lab tested Scotland County emergency responders ability to properly handle an emergency situation involving hazardous materials.

Around 80 emergency responders participated in the scenario that involved wrecked cars and accident victims scattered along Railroad Street behind Scotland High School on Thursday morning. Acting as if they were truly dispatched the scene, crews worked urgently to resolve the accident just like they would on an actual call.

Members of the 9-1-1 call center, Laurinburg Police Department, Scotland County Sheriff's Office, Laurinburg Fire Department, Emergency Medical Services, Rescue Squad, Emergency Management, Scotland Memorial Hospital and public health volunteered to participate in a mock scenario that set up an accident. During the planning of the event, each group had input as to what its department wanted to evaluate.

"We contracted with OnTarget Preparedness, a consulting firm to help design the exercise," said Roylin Hammond public safety director. "OnTarget created the scenario and introduced new variables to the scenario based on what we wanted to test."

The story for Thursday's test was a car accident that involved a mobile meth lab in the trunk of one of the vehicles. During the scenario, OnTarget and other department heads observed how well their teams tackled the situation.

By and large each department was happy with its team's response, but found areas where improvements could be made.

"There's always room for improvement no matter how good a job we do; there was a lot of road clutter," Hammond said of the many emergency vehicles at the roadside. "We could have done a whole lot better job of not blocking the road there wouldn't have been an egress for the ambulances. These are trivial things that are not trivial things in an emergency."

Deputy Chief Lloyd Goins of the Scotland County Sheriff's Office was pleased with how his department's members responded as well.

The sheriff's office began the scenario as backup for the Laurinburg Police Department assisting with traffic control, but their narcotics officer was later called in due to the mock meth lab.

"Our narcotics officer who is certified to by the state of North Carolina to identify a meth lab suited up in the PPE [personal protection equipment] and did his investigation of the suspect vehicle and from the evidence that was there determined that it was in fact a mobile meth lab," Goins said.

If the lab had been real, the State Bureau of Investigations would have been called in to clean up the scene. The bureau usually responds with a team in one to two hours, Goins said.

"They take meth labs very seriously, and they try to dispatch their team here as soon as possible because you're dealing with dangerous gasses that could not only affect the surrounding area, but it could affect people that are downwind of it as well," Goins said.

The sheriff's office was largely pleased with how its officers handled themselves, but did find one area where it was lacking. During the assessment debriefing, they learned that their narcotics officer did not have the proper breathing apparatus required by the state to approach the scene.

The department was not aware that a self-contained unit, much like scuba gear, was mandated and is moving to fix the problem. Goins hopes to be able to find grant money to pay for a Scott air pack which can range in price from $900 to $4,900; if not, the upgrade will come out of the department's budget.

Goins praised the joint efforts of all the departments saying that they have always worked well together, but did notice one area that may be a safety issue for other first responders.

Goins said several officers came near the wreckage and saw smoke coming from the trunk but did not take caution.

"When we respond to a situation, we approach the scene wanting to assess injuries to help the individuals in need; sometimes we approach the scene not thinking of their own safety," Goins said. "If you've got an accident you're going to see steam coming from the front compartment because that's where the engine is, but if you've got something coming from the trunk, it concerns you."

Though the exercise found some weak spots in performance, both Goins and Hammond say that is a good thing because the purpose of these events is to find areas that need to be improved so that those situations will not arise in a true emergency.

The exercise was financed with money from North Carolina Emergency Management. The county was given a $6,000 grant to conduct training classes on incident command for local first responders and create a scenario that would utilize those skills in the field. In class training was held on late 2016, according to Hammond.

Officials with the Laurinburg Fire Department, Scotland Memorial Hospital, Health Department and Police Department could not be reached for comment.

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