McGregor Memorial EMS in the News
Durham conducts hazmat drill
By BRUNO MATARAZZO Jr.
In Foster's Online
Friday, August 13, 2004
DURHAM — Consider the following: an alarm at the fire department comes in reporting a leak of the ammonia tank at the Whittemore Center Arena.
While responding, reports come in that an explosion also occurred and there are several people injured.
The scenario gets worse for firefighters and police responding to the scene after they learn a disgruntled employee caused the explosion and has possibly taken people hostage.
The series of events on Thursday were only a drill put on by the Durham Fire Department and University of New Hampshire Police to test their skills and those of other departments and agencies who would have to respond if such an event occurred.
Durham Fire Chief Ronald O'Keefe said Thursday's drill "went extremely well."
The initial call of an ammonia alarm came in at 8:50 a.m.. Unlike ammonia found underneath the kitchen sink which is 2 percent pure, the ammonia at the Whittemore Center is 98 percent pure and can cause respiratory problems and chemical burns.
There were 12 victims in the mock accident, two of whom were reported dead on arrival. Volunteers played the parts of victims and a smoke flare was used to indicate the leaking ammonia.
One indication of how first responders had to deal with unanticipated events during the drill was when the wind changed and sent smoke from the flares into the direction of the command post.
Officials simulated the relocation of the command post to a safer location. They also simulated evacuating nearby dormitories, university offices and surrounding buildings.
Part of the job for all responding departments and agencies was establishing a unified command system which meant having a joint leadership of police and fire because of the type of incident.
O'Keefe said one thing they learned from the drill was that communication is a serious issue, after noticing a couple of radio problems.
"One of the biggest issues was communication break down and because of that certain actions were delayed," O'Keefe said.
One of the problems stems from the fact police operate on a digital radios while firefighters are still on analog systems. Digital transmissions can not be heard on analog radios.
The fire department will soon be receiving digital radios, which should help relieve some communication break downs.
Representatives from the Seacoast's hazardous material team, the ATF, FBI, the state's bomb squad, Durham Ambulance Corps, Durham and University of New Hampshire police responded took part in the drill.
The drill was part of a $22,000 grant from the state's Office of Emergency Management.
O’Keefe acknowledged the efforts of Assistant Fire Chief Michael Blake and Firefighter/Paramedic Jim Lapolla for writing the grant to conduct Thursday's drill.
With the grant, no town funds were used to conduct the drill.