Emergency response tested during tear gas ‘accident’

Published 5:00 am Friday, June 6, 2008

Officials say a drill staged Wednesday for city police, fire andhospital workers went well in spite of a few kinks that need to beworked out.

The drill was set up as if a group of teenagers were playingpaintball when one of them activated a tank of military-grade teargas. Lincoln County Civil Defense Director Clifford Galey said thedrill was kicked into action when 911 was called, and they notifiedthe Brookhaven Fire Department and Brookhaven PoliceDepartment.

“All we knew at the beginning was we had a bunch of kids layingin the field screaming and hollering, and that there was a cloud ofsome kind of gas,” said Galey, adding that emergency responders hadto figure the rest out from there.

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BPD had officers blocking the road on Boyce Drive, as well asofficials on the scene assisting with incident command. BFD wasdispatched to help with removing the victims from the contaminatedarea.

Police Chief Pap Henderson said he felt a good job was done byall the responding agencies, and that he looked forward toassessing the drill with other officials.

“I’m pretty sure we could all use a little improvement, but wedid what would have been the correct thing to do under thecircumstances,” he said. “I thought everyone did an excellentjob.”

BFD Shift Capt. Marty Beeson said his men also did exactly whatthey should have done in such a situation.

“We had good communication on the radio, and we did good settingup, we set up upwind of the incident,” he said. “I don’t see a lotwe could have done different.”

The victims, played by King’s Daughters Medical Center juniorvolunteers, were carried from the contaminated area by firefightersin full gear and taken to a decontamination area where they weresprayed off, which Galey said is an appropriate tactic when dealingwith a hazardous material such as tear gas. The victims were thentriaged on the scene by KDMC emergency medical technicians, andtransported to the emergency room.

“That was called gross decon on the scene,” Galey said, addingthe victims were also put through another decontamination when theyreached KDMC.

“The hospital set up a decontamination tent, and they werebrushed down at the hospital,” he said.

Assistant Manager Mark Lambert said in the case of a realemergency, there is a callback log that hospital officials wouldcall to bring in off-duty medics. This would insure that enoughmedical help is available not only for on-scene and transport care,but also to cover anything else that might arise during such adisaster.

Overall, though, Lambert said he was pleased with his EMTs’performances.

“As always, there’s always room for improvement, but things wentsmoothly from the scene,” he said. “You’re never perfect. That’swhy you practice.”

One surprise that came during the drill was when ER doctorsbegan sending the ambulatory victims to the Quick Care Clinicacross the street. One of them got through all the rescue anddecontamination with a gun, and then simulated shooting a doctor atthe clinic.

“That was an escalation in the exercise that was there to testhospital security and BPD’s response,” Galey said.

Henderson said he thought the response to the gun scenario wentoff well and that the response from his officers was timely.

Galey and Henderson said the gun was actually meant to go intothe emergency room, but the doctors’ sending patients to otherlocations was an unexpected turn.

“That was testing the hospital’s security … to see what theycould deal with,” Henderson said.

One thing all the officials agreed on was that incident commandprocedures need to be practiced more often with multiple emergencyresponse groups.

“There are a few kinks to be worked out,” said Galey. “ICS isstill new to some of us, and we have to continue to do theseexercises to point out our good and bad points.”

Henderson agreed, saying basically that practice makesperfect.

“I feel we need to do these more,” he said. “It doesn’t have tobe a large scale exercise, but once a year is not enough forsomething like this, because there’s such a wide range of thingsthat could happen.”

As Beeson said, Galey said the individual agencies had donetheir jobs well, but the glitches had come in setting up a unifiedcommand.

“We did a good job at our individual tasks, but when youimplement a true unified incident command, it works better,” hesaid. “It’s imperative for everyone to be on the same page.”

Galey said there are plans in the works to do other exercises toimprove incident command in future situations.

“Normally we simulate a major incident once a year. But talkingwith firefighters and police officers on the scene, we’re lookingat getting with the chiefs to do some tabletop exercises to geteveryone more familiar with the procedures,” Galey said.

Officials said there are still reports and evaluations to bedone on the incident.

“We’ll be grading ourselves on the exercise, but we stillhaven’t gotten together to do it yet,” Henderson said. “We plan tosit down and look at how it went and assess the procedures.”