First responders train for disaster

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William Colson, left, playing an injured person, receives help from a local firefighter Tuesday during the Hazardous Materials Emergency full-scale exercise at the Rocky Mount Event Center.


Staff Writer

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The city of Rocky Mount hosted a Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness Regional full-scale drill Tuesday in downtown Rocky Mount around the Rocky Mount Event Center to be better prepared in case a serious chemical leak occurs in the area.

The planning group included members of the Rocky Mount Fire Department, Rocky Mount Police Department, Wilson Fire Department, Nash County Emergency Management, Edgecombe County Emergency Management, state Emergency Management, Nash-UNC Health Care and the state Regional Response Team 1.

EnviroSafe, a client-based agency that evaluates emergency response, was contracted to facilitate the regional training exercise.

Sgt. Brad Summerlin, public information officer of the Rocky Mount Police Department, said the scenario involved a hazmat transportation and mass casualty incident near the Event Center. The mock scenario involved a Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools bus carrying students from Nash Central and Rocky Mount high schools colliding with a train at the corner of Goldleaf and Main streets.

The more than 100 students, who all take fire and public safety courses at Nash Central and Rocky Mount high schools, volunteered as victims in the exercise, several of whom were carried off in stretchers to have their fake injuries tended to by first responders, including several firefighters wearing hazmat suits.

“It was great to see this type of teamwork working together on a large scale,” Summerlin said. “It was also a great opportunity to be able to understand that communication is the biggest key to a situation like this to make sure you’ve got the area evacuated and safety is paramount. You got to make sure you get the victims the treatment they need, so when we run across a real-world incident like this we’re already trained and know how to prepare. We just want to provide the best quality of service to the citizen to Rocky Mount.”

Austin Wells, 15, a sophomore at Nash Central High School, participated in the exercise. Wells volunteers as a junior firefighter at the West Mount Volunteer Fire Department. Wells said his goal is to eventually have a career as a firefighter because of his desire to help people. 

He said watching the several public safety and emergency management personnel respond to the scenario during the training exercise was unique.

“The exercise was a great eye-opening experience to see what could really happen during a dangerous situation,” Wells said. “It’s something that I could be involved in one day, so it was a good learning experience to see what it takes to try to save people’s lives.”

The exercise tested first responders’ capabilities in several areas including hazmat response, mass casualty response triage, mass decontamination, mass evacuation, activation of secondary Emergency Operation Center and relocation of the city’s 911 center. 

Donnie Daniels, division chief of operations and emergency management coordinator for the Rocky Mount Fire Department, said a grant application in January for the regional hazardous material exercise was developed by both Edgecombe County Emergency Management and Nash County Emergency Management in collaboration with the city. Officials said the group recommended the large-scale regional hazmat exercise after looking at the hazardous materials analysis, regional response capabilities and vulnerabilities in the region.

Daniels said a $20,000 grant was approved by the state in February to conduct the large-scale regional hazmat exercise, which led to six to eight months of planning. In October, a Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness tabletop exercise was conducted with more than 60 participants representing local, regional and state public safety and emergency management personnel in preparation for the full-scale regional training exercise on Tuesday.