First responders sharpen skills in mock disaster
Dozens of agencies respond to a simulated chlorine leak in Valley City
Firemen Darby Sander and Cory Hayden spray down a simulated chlorine gas cloud while their other rescue personnel pick up unconscious victims during a disaster training exercise at the Liverpool Wastewater Treatment Plant. Photo by GLENN WOJCIAK
VALLEY CITY – First responders tested their readiness for disaster June 24 during an Emergency Management Agency training exercise at the Liverpool Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Emergency personnel from 31 organizations representing area fire departments, the State Highway Patrol, Sheriff’s Department, emergency management agencies, Environmental Protection Agency and medical facilities took part in the simulation of a chlorine release that resulted in mass casualties.

The goal of the exercise program is to improve the overall readiness and capabilities of emergency response by validating training, emergency plans, and procedures to identify strengths and areas for improvement before they face real world incidents.

Full-scale training exercises like the one in Valley City are mandated by the Ohio EMA and Homeland Security Agency and take place in Medina County every three or four years.

The value of the training was never more evident than in 2001 when a disaster exercise was completed just weeks before a deadly steam engine explosion at the Medina County Fair killed five people and injured dozens of others.

The practiced coordination among first responders from numerous agencies helped secure the scene so that the many injured could be quickly treated and evacuated. Ben Nau, Medina County’s emergency management specialist, said more loss of life may have occurred at the fairgrounds in 2001 if not for the effective emergency response.

Objectives of the exercise in Valley City were to demonstrate and test the ability to mobilize emergency personnel, assess the material and hazards involved in the incident, set up a command center, secure the site and nearby traffic and evaluate the adequacy of medical procedures and facilities to treat the victims.

The exercise unfolded with a response from the Valley City Fire Department, which is the nearest department to the simulated disaster. Fire Chief Jack Petrone said it was his staff’s responsibility to do a preliminary assessment of the incident, call EMA for support and do whatever they were qualified for to help victims.

Valley City firemen rescued several people passed out on the ground outside the building where a chlorine leak was suspected. They were soon assisted by firemen from several neighboring communities, the Medina Life Support Team, the Hazardous Material Team, which had the equipment and training necessary to rescue people inside the building where the leak had occurred, and a technical rescue team need to rescue a victim who had fallen into a deep pit.

All the activity was coordinated by the Medina County EMA, which also arrived on the scene with a mobile command center from which to plan and coordinate rescue measures undertaken by the various agencies involved. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency also monitored the exercise.

Petrone said first responders take part in numerous training activities throughout the year but only take part in large scale training operations like this one every three or four years.

“You have to practice to sharpen your skills and drills like this provide us with world-class training,” he said.

Coordinating with other agencies was also a critical component of the exercise. Petrone said it is not unusual for neighboring departments to assist each other.

“We have to be ready for any disaster that has mass casualties and overwhelms the resources of one department,” Petrone said.

That could be a major incident at any of the nearby manufacturing facilities, a plane crash on the approach to Hopkins Airport, a train derailment or even a school bus accident.