Originally created 05/17/02

Exercise tests response of emergency workers



Chris Carroll did exactly what he was supposed to Thursday: He ran into a toxin-filled building, passed out and died.

About 45 minutes later, he and a co-worker dusted themselves off and listened to Columbia County officials discuss the results of the hazardous-materials exercise, which took place at the Harlem wastewater treatment plant.

More than a dozen Columbia County agencies took part in the drill, staged to test the response of emergency officials and work out any kinks should officials have to respond to a real disaster.

"We're looking at preventing it from happening and, if it happens, how to respond to it and warn the public," said Pam Tucker, Columbia County's emergency services director.

Thursday's exercise began at 10 a.m. when an alarm sounded, warning workers of a chlorine spill in the storage room. Mr. Carroll opened the door and was instantly overtaken by the fumes.

Minutes later, Reginald Ford was overcome by the fumes after checking on Mr. Carroll. Having seen the incident unfold, a supervisor called 911, putting response teams on the clock.

"(Chlorine) is a heavy gas that tends to stay along the ground where people are," Mrs. Tucker said. "In concentrated amounts, a person can be dead within 11 seconds."

Both victims lay on the ground for 30 minutes, in effect killing Mr. Carroll because he was inside the building, completely engulfed.

Despite the mock casualties, organizers called the exercise a great success. Mrs. Tucker said that residents living within seven-tenths of a mile were notified of the drill by phone and that agencies were able to work together, some for the first time.

"The learning experience has been tremendous," Mrs. Tucker said. "This is one of the most worthwhile things we have ever done in this county."

Reach Louie Villalobos at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 109, or ccchron@augustachronicle.com.