June 30, 2016

Partly sunny

EMA disaster drill involves twister and pesticide spill

Lisa Hlavinka | The Gazette

WESTFIELD CENTER — HazMat workers in full gear, bloodied victims crying out for help, ambulances and police car lights flashing in the background. With the right camera angles and lighting, this could have been the set of the latest action movie, but its purpose was more serious.

On Wednesday morning, local emergency responders, HazMat teams and hospital staff teamed up for a countywide mock disaster that involved a destructive tornado and a dangerous chemical spill.

The purpose of the drill was to coordinate the public and private sectors so the entire county is prepared in the event of a disaster, said Christine Fozio, deputy director of the Medina County Emergency Management Agency.

Hazmat technicians assist a contaminated victim in the center of a mock pesticide spill during a disaster drill Wednesday in Westfield Center. The red circle indicates the area where the chemical first spilled. (Lisa Hlavinka | Gazette)

Every year, the EMA runs an “All Hazards” program, following a four-year exercise cycle set up by the Medina County Local Emergency Planning Committee that attempts to encompass all aspects of disaster recovery, Fozio said.

In 2001, the mock disaster scenario included a massive explosion. Later that year, an antique steam engine exploded at the Medina County Fair.

“When there was the explosion at the fair, they’d just had the explosion scenario, so it really makes a difference,” said county Commissioner Pat Geissman, a former Lodi emergency medical technician for 22 years. “They were really prepared to take care of the situation.”

This year’s mock drill began at 8 a.m. with an announcement from the National Weather Service that severe storms were moving rapidly across Illinois and Indiana and into Ohio. The Medina County Emergency Management Agency, which coordinated the mock drill, had only an hour to prepare for the storms.

At 9 a.m., the storm hit Westfield Township and the Village of Westfield Center, toppling trees, blocking roads and flooding the area. A tornado touched down 2 miles east of Lodi and was moving east along Greenwich Road.

The problem was exacerbated when a small truck en route to Westfield Country Club overturned, spilling 165 gal-lons of pesticide on Greenwich Road. Only the truck driver was affected, but bystanders created a larger problem when they attempted to help him and were exposed to the chemicals.

For the drill, the “truck” and spill were located in a parking lot behind Westfield Insurance, 1 Park Circle. The Lafayette Township Fire Department, Westfield Fire & Rescue, Wadsworth Fire Department and sheriff’s office personnel were among the “first responders.”

The 15 victims covered in pesticide were “decontaminated” by members of the Medina County All Hazards Team.

Team member Hugh O’Neill brought two trucks that contained showers, misting fans and tents that would be used in a real chemical spill. In a real disaster, victims would be hosed down to wash away the chemicals, using cold water to close their pores and prevent them from further absorbing the pesticide.

Mock victims were rolled on stretchers into ambulances. Chemically contaminated victims were sent to Summa Wadsworth-Rittman. Other victims, some made up with realistic blood and cuts and broken bones, were sent to Lodi Community or Medina General hospitals.

An important aspect is communication between separate entities, said Buck Adams, director of the county EMA. If emergency workers plan together and train together, they will respond smoothly to an emergency in the same way they did in training, Adams said.

Elsewhere in the county, the Medina County Red Cross set up a shelter at Leroy Methodist Church, 6777 Park Circle. The shelter was for victims evacuated from their homes, and provided food, psychological services, a nurse for relatively minor injuries and cots, Executive Director Beth Kilchenman said.

Next to the church, C.A.R.E., an animal rescue group, set up a shelter for animals injured or lost in the disaster.

Westfield Insurance, the largest employer in Medina County, also took part in the drill by evacuating 1,500 people in 3½ minutes, Adams said.

Adams and a team of 20 agency heads, including the Medina County Health Department and a private contractor from a trucking company, held a table-top exercise for debris management at EMA headquarters.

“It’s important for public and private sectors to work together to ensure that if something really did occur, we’re prepared to work together,” he said.

Contact Lisa Hlavinka at (330) 721-4048 or lhlavinka@ohio.net.