Last week, Williams County first responders learned how to manage an intentional, chemical attack. This week, the responders’ focus was on how to handle an accidental hazardous situation.
“This sort of practice is invaluable in terms of preparing for a real-life response,” says Ryan Risdon, HAZMAT manager with BNSF Railway.
The exercise is a simulation designed to prepare first responders for a toxic and potentially dangerous situation.
“In the command center itself, it’s managing resources, making sure we have what we need on scene and if we don’t, getting it here,” says Matt Clark, captain with the Williston Fire Department.
The scenario? A strong odor is coming from the rail yard. The first officer on scene noticed a white cloud coming from one of the rail cars. Now, emergency responders have to figure out what it is and how to stop it.
“Once we determined what the material was, then we were able to go in and we provided basically a protection, trying to push some of those vapors away while they isolated the leak on the container and isolated the area,” says Craig Moen, lieutenant with the Williston Fire Department.
And while the scenario is a staged one, every day realities still came into play.
“It’s pretty much a normal day. Trying to manage what resources we have based on other calls and stuff. So real world, we had a few medicals and everything going on,” says Clark.
And that experience of juggling tasks, coordinating efforts, and working together, provides a foundation for the responders should this scenario ever become a reality.
“It’s real. That’s exactly how we’re going to respond so it’s good to train that way,” says Moen.
So that despite the potential hazards, the situation can be quickly contained.
Specific scenarios like this one are coordinated on an annual basis by Williams County Emergency Management. They’re designed to help local agencies learn how to respond to different emergency situations.