Blount County first responders handle hazardous situation during training

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MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A driver pulling a hazardous chemical crashed into an after-hours daycare center while having a medical emergency in Maryville Thursday night — fortunately, the incident wasn’t real. Just a training scenario for local first responders.

Maryville Fire Deputy Chief Mike Caylor said first responders in Blount County annually practice dealing with hazardous materials incidents.

Every year, the job of creating the scenario and hosting the drill revolves between the three fire departments in Blount County with hazardous materials teams: The Blount County Fire Protection District, the Alcoa Fire Department and the Maryville Fire Department.

This year, it was Caylor’s turn, along with the Chief Tony Crisp.

“I try to throw as many crooks and crannies as I could, not to be vindictful or to stump people, but to try and make it as challenging as I could. You know, if we’re gonna go through the trouble to do this, we need to learn something out of it,” Caylor said.

In Caylor’s exercise, the tanker trailer is ‘filled’ with Methyl Mercaptan – the chemical added to natural gas to give it a rotten egg smell.

However, the first responders initially believed they were dealing with natural gas, which was spewing into the air where the vehicle had crashed into the building.

The goal: fire and hazmat crews, along with law enforcement and rescue/EMS crews, had to stabilize the driver impaled by steel rebar; mitigate the hazardous material; search for children possibly injured inside, and douse the flames from a fire.

“Had this been real this would’ve been a dangerous situation. This could have cost lives,” Caylor said.

Caylor said they train for these kind of situations because Blount County doesn’t see too many hazardous material situations, especially at a larger scale.

He said that while local first responders from all the different agencies might know each other, they don’t often work together.

“You have communication issues, you have ‘who’s in charge of this, who’s in charge of that?’ So it’s an opportunity for everybody to come together and work under one umbrella,” Caylor said.

During training scenarios such as Thursday night, Caylor said he thinks about the 2015 train derailment and how they can improve their response.

“I harp on communications, but communications is always an issue. When you’ve got people directing things they don’t have a line of sight on, you’re depending on the chain of command, you’re depending on key people to make sure that what the incident commander has initiated his tact and strategy, it’s actually being done in the field,” Caylor said.

The training exercise also allows first responders to practice using equipment they might not use too often, or respond in a certain way because of the current situation.

For example, during the exercise, the ‘leaking gas’ was blowing a certain direction. Firefighters knew to stand upwind of the gas.

Medical personnel and firefighters also practiced getting decontaminated in the field.

“Tomorrow we’re going to have what they call a little hot wash, which is when we get together and evaluate ourself, ‘okay, we did this really, really well. This could have been a little better,'” Caylor said.

The training is funded by a federal Hazardous Materials Equipment Planning Grant administered by Blount County Emergency Management Agency through the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and the United States Department of Transportation.

Personnel from the Maryville Fire Department, Alcoa Fire Department, Blount County Fire Protection District, Alcoa Police Department, Friendsville Volunteer Fire Department, Blount County Sheriff’s Office, and American Medical Response participated in the training scenario. Blount Memorial Hospital and East Tennessee Medical Group also tested their decontamination and emergency response procedures.

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