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Drill helps responders prepare for the real thing

A firefighter hosed off volunteer Mark Robertson as he stood still waiting to be decontaminated after a simulated hazardous materials spill in Summit County.

Though just a drill, the exercise on Saturday helped prepare emergency responders for the real thing.

Here is the scenario: a tanker truck crashes on Interstate 80 spilling an unknown toxic substance.

"They will transport the patients via ambulance to the (hospital) emergency department where they will have decontamination tents," said Amy Roberts, a spokeswoman for the Park City Medical Center.

Several ambulances, fire trucks and the Summit County Sheriff’s office mobile command center were present at the scene.

"Emergencies don’t happen every day so it’s good to go through these drills so you are prepared when they do happen," Roberts said.

Staging the drill cost the hospital about $5,000, Park City Medical Center Chief Operating Officer Steve Anderson said.

"We take them very, very seriously," Roberts said.

When it comes to hazardous materials spills, Summit County has had many close calls.

"We did a run last year at Echo Canyon where we pulled trucks in and checked them," said Butch Swenson, a spokesman for Summit County’s Local Emergency Preparedness Committee. "We were surprised that 15 percent of all the trucks on I-80 westbound had hazardous materials in one way or another."

The simulated spill on Saturday injured several people, including firefighters. Some patients were flown to the hospital in a medical helicopter. The seriousness of their injuries varied and responders who participated in Saturday’s drill needed to determine who should receive treatment first.

"What we are concerned about is doing gross decontamination on a lot of people that may be exposed to a chemical release," Swenson said. "We are concerned about a scenario where a chemical agent on a truck collides with a bus or something like that. On the freeway you’ve got a lot of cars and people may not know that they got exposed to a product until it’s too late."

Patients in the hospital parking lot were met at makeshift decontamination tents by firefighters wearing facemasks and protective suits.

"They can decontaminate them before they are allowed into the hospital," Swenson said. "You don’t want any contamination in the hospital."

Fuel spills have occurred on the freeway in Summit County. But potential chlorine and hydrous ammonia spills would be more dangerous.

"There are several products that travel (U.S.) 40 and Interstate 80," Swenson said. "Most of them come down (westbound) Interstate 80 and then take (Interstate) 84 right into Ogden."

Some of trucks haul radioactive material, he stressed.

"We have those going both ways," Swenson said. "It’s low-yield nuclear waste It’s not what they refer to as weaponized. It won’t turn you pink over night, but there is product there."

During the drill, crews practiced containing the spill before nearby neighborhoods were contaminated.

"We don’t want people to go out and look at the wreck. We want them 1,500 yards away from it," Swenson said. "We want people to be aware of the fact that if they come across a truck accident, go the other way, always uphill, upwind. Don’t get exposed to anything in the form of vapor or anything else."

"Stay in the house, close the windows and shut off the heating and air conditioning units."


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