Disaster drill helps local responders practice

Hood River’s waterfront served as the staging area for a “mass casualty” training exercise that began early Saturday morning.

About 37 Boy Scouts from the Mid-Columbia participated in the realistic drill that centered on a train derailment involving a chemical spill. The young “victims” enthusiastically donned bloody rags and gruesome makeup for their grim roles. Although they occasionally broke out of character with a smile or laugh — they easily reverted to pain-wracked expressions when approached by emergency responders.

Union Pacific/Santa Fe Railroad donated tank and hopper cars to be used as props and Carson Oil loaned a tanker truck to the effort. The simulated accident occurred when a freight train was unable to avoid ramming a tanker truck that had stalled on the tracks. The resultant crash not only injured pedestrians but mixed a deadly combination of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and liquid hydrochloric acid.

“The purpose of these exercises is to identify some of the areas where we can improve,” said Karl Tesch, emergency services coordinator.

Numerous fire, police and ambulance officials converged near the Hood River Distillers to set up decontamination and triage stations. To the casual observer, the scene appeared chaotic, but Tesch said the mostly volunteer crew had it well under control. He said the exercise revealed only two areas of concern, the need for more blankets to cover a larger number of victims and a little finetuning in radio communications.

“The backbone of this county is the volunteers, without them we couldn’t accomplish anything and they were great,” said Tesch.

He and an advisory panel of emergency responders had also arranged for an industrial “accident” to take place at the same time in a Carson, Wash., lumber plant. Tesch said the joint drill is coordinated every other year to meet federal hazardous materials training requirements. He said the next full-scale alert will be even more realistic, since Hood River County has recently been approved for a mobile de-contamination station.

He said federal funds will also be used to update the local Emergency Prepardeness Plan during the next year. Tesch said the county will pay only $5,200 of the salary to hire a full-time writer/editor for that 12 month task.

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