Mich. first responders train for chemical spill during drill

To make the scenario more realistic, students volunteered to be victims during the simulation, going so far as to apply wounds created with makeup

By Kelsey Hammon
Niles Daily Star

NILES, Mich. — Bundled head to toe in blue hazmat suits, emergency responders practiced for a chemical spill during a drill Tuesday at Niles Lakeland Hospital.

To make the real-world scenario more realistic, Allied Health and Professional Health Careers Academy students volunteered to be victims during the simulation, going so far as to apply wounds and lacerations created with makeup.

The drill was coordinated by Brian Scribner, the executive director of Southwestern Michigan Community Ambulance Service. Emergency responders from SMCAS and Lakeland Hospital, as well as more than a dozen firefighters from Niles Township and Niles participated.

"This was an exercise designed to test our resources and ability to handle these types of situations," Scribner said. "Firefighters or paramedics may go through most of their career without seeing one of these so it is important to practice and train."

The made-up scenario involved a car crash that occurs when a fully loaded tanker truck hauling a corrosive liquid swerves to miss a vehicle that has merged onto the road without yielding. The truck then flips over and smashes into two other cars. Hazardous liquid from the truck begins to ooze onto the roadway. Subsequently, victims of the car crash and those in the near vicinity began experiencing burning eyes, runny nose, sore throats and breathing difficulties. Officers on the scene are tasked not only with helping the car crash victims, but also aiding those impacted by the spill and keeping the contaminated area from growing larger.

Niles Fire Chief Larry Lamb said during the exercise firefighters focused on decontamination, identifying victims who needed help most.

As a light snow began to fall, more than a dozen "wounded" students were given a position to sprawl out of, after the accident. Each volunteer was given an acting card that detailed how the individual was responding to the situation. Some students fake cried, while others who were deemed unresponsive lay listless.

Firefighters approached the scene began by assessing who was in the most critical condition. Those who were responsive were hosed down to eliminate contaminates and further treated. Due to the cold weather, students were dosed with pretend water.

Lamb said that though township and city firefighters are often working cohesively on the scene together, they don't often get the chance to do a drill or train together. He said he saw the two municipalities as one.

"Any time we get the opportunity to rub elbows it is great for the community, which isn't Niles city and Niles Township—it's Niles," Lamb said.

Niles Township Fire Chief echoed this sentiment.

"Nothing major like this [training] has happened for a while," Brovold said. "I think with all the tragedies that you see going on in the U.S. and the world, we need to start planning outside your normal incidents."

Instructor Angie Mann said students get the chance to pretend to exhibit the symptoms they talk about in class, while learning more about what emergency responders do on the scene.

"There are so many people involved in this that this is never something you could simulate in a class," Mann said. "They are getting to see the big picture of medical diagnosis and trauma as well."

Scribner said this particular emergency scenario was selected by the hospital for practice. Throughout the day, each response team was assigned goals to work on. Communication was collectively the mission among all entities.

"In a real disaster, we [emergency response crews] all have to work together really well to have the best possible outcome," Scribner said.

Scribner said the exercise could initiate more training for emergency responders, based on what was learned during the course of the exercise. He said he hoped to complete a collaborative drill like Tuesday's at least once a year going forward.

Copyright 2017 Niles Daily Star

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