At about 9:30 Saturday morning, roughly half a dozen Safety Kleen employees stood at the plant’s main gate on La Grange Road, waiting somewhat impatiently. “Where are they? What’s taking so long?” some asked.
“They” were a group of emergency responders trying to work their way from the New Castle Fire Station to the scene of a possible disaster — explosion of Safety Kleen’s industrial drum shredder.
Ten minutes later the first team of emergency responders and Safety Kleen employees headed into the industrial recycling plant’s facility to search for eight missing employees. At 9:50, a search team found the first victim.
Just before 10 a.m., the first patients were heading for decontamination. At 10, the report came in that the bodies of two dead employees were found in the shredder room, the scene of the ‘explosion.’
None of it, however, was real.
Safety Kleen, and several area emergency response agencies took part in the disaster drill putting first responders’ skills to the test.
Kentucky Emergency Management’s Don Renn said that in reality, local responders did pretty well. With the first unit on scene at 9:24, contact made 26 minutes later was “rocking,” according to Renn, even though it may not seem that way to people at the scene.
“I know it doesn’t seem like it because you’ve got people hurt, but we’ve got to take care of ourselves first,” Renn said. He added that in a real disaster situation, a decontamination area would have to be set up before anyone could cross into the facility’s grounds.
“If you think Safety Kleen was screaming today,” Renn said, “legally, you’ve got to have decontamination set up before you cross that line.”
Renn complimented responders and Safety Kleen personnel — who had protective gear of their own — for working together in teams. “I loved the fact that you combined your Safety Kleen personnel with your fire department personnel,” he said. “Who best on that plant knows what’s going on than those people that work there.”
No disaster exercise would be complete, how-ever, without a few mistakes which create learning opportunities.
Renn said that while Safety Kleen kept track of its employees going in and out, the fire departments didn’t necessarily know who was on what team.
“My question is, if you lost a team, say team three goes down and doesn’t answer the radio, would you know who you were looking for?”
He also said that the incident commander would want to know where each team was and how they were doing. Instead, Renn said he heard a lot about patients’ vital signs. Relaying what areas have been searched also is important, he added.
New Castle Fire Chief Gene Raake said during the critique session that if the exercise was flawless and responders didn’t learn anything, the session would be a waste of time.
“Anytime that we play, like we did today, if we didn’t learn one thing in that planning exercise, it wasn’t good,” he said. “If we made mistakes, that’s good, that’s wonderful. That means we learned something.”
Henry County Emergency Management Director Bruce Owens said this was the first mock disaster at Safety Kleen in about six years, and that the facility has come a long way in its years in Henry County. The facility also presents, he said, the largest potential chemical hazard in the county.
“I think (the exercise) went very well,” he said, noting that he observed the drill from the Emergency Operations Center in New Castle. “Getting comments from people like the sheriff, the coronor, it was very successful.”
More than 40 people were involved in the drill including Safety Kleen personnel and responders from Henry County EMS, Henry County Sheriff’s Department, Kentucky State Police, and all of the county’s fire departments — Campbellsburg, Eminence, Kentucky River, Lake Jericho, New Castle and Pleasureville.
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