Emergency Responders and Managers Practice for Something They Hope Will Never Happen
by Norm Rooker, Chief Paramedic, Ouray County EMS
Jul 08, 2009 | 996 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TABLETOP EXCERCISE – Ouray City Manager Patrick Rondinelli (third from left) and Ouray County Sheriff Dominic “Junior” Mattivi (second from left) discuss evacuation issues as Ouray Police Chief Leo Rasmusson (far left) ponders the next step with Ridgway Town Manager Greg Clifton (second from right). Durango Fire Division Chief Mark Quick (far right) obtains a local weather report. (Courtesy photo)
TABLETOP EXCERCISE – Ouray City Manager Patrick Rondinelli (third from left) and Ouray County Sheriff Dominic “Junior” Mattivi (second from left) discuss evacuation issues as Ouray Police Chief Leo Rasmusson (far left) ponders the next step with Ridgway Town Manager Greg Clifton (second from right). Durango Fire Division Chief Mark Quick (far right) obtains a local weather report. (Courtesy photo)
OURAY – Emergency responders, managers, city, town and county managers and administrators, members of the Colorado State Patrol Hazardous Materials Team, a chief from the Durango Fire Department and a member of the incident response team for the Denver office of the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, June 25, struggled to deal with a gasoline tanker that lay on its side in front of a Main Street hotel as thousands of gallons of unleaded fuel gushed down Main Street into the 6th Avenue storm drains and into the Uncompahgre River. Fortunately for everyone, this was not an actual event but rather a Table Top Training Exercise, or TTX.

The scenario: A DOT 306 fuel hauler with a load of 9,000 gallons of various grades of unleaded gasoline is traveling northbound on Highway 550. Just as it is passing the Beaumont Hotel, a southbound pickup swerves violently to avoid a tourist backing out into traffic. The pick up truck strikes the big rig just in front of the lead duel wheels resulting in a jack knife roll over onto its side with a three-foot gash in the bottom of the trailer. The big rig driver is injured and trapped in his rig as thousands of gallons of gas spill out of the trailer and flow down Main Street.

The Ouray County EMS Hazardous Materials Team created this scenario as a way to “chalk talk” the regional management, strategies and tactics required to handle an incident of this magnitude and severity and to work through a few additional issues. Like who would pay for all of this.  In the scenario, while the City of Ouray “owned” the accident, the expense of which could ultimately bankrupt the city, all the various emergency and recovery issues still needed to be dealt with in a proactive and responsible way.

The TTX was facilitated by Durango Fire Department Division Chief Mark Quick, head of his department’s Technician level 10 person Hazardous Materials Team and secretary for the Western Slope Haz Mat Association.  He was assisted by the two-person Colorado State Patrol Haz Mat Team, Troopers Travis Randolph and Kevin Jordan, based out of Cortez. There is a second two person CSP Haz Mat team based out of Grand Junction and the Grand Junction Fire Department has the only other Technician-level Haz Mat Team on the Western Slope.)

Chief Quick in turn invited Craig Myers, the On-Scene Coordinator for the Denver-based Emergency Response Unit for the EPA, to assist with the TTX and help answer questions about reporting and, along with the CSP troopers, reimbursement for expenditures for responding to and cleaning up after an incident like this.

Attending the TTX were Ouray City Police Chief Leo Rasmusson, Ouray County Sheriff Dominic “Jr” Mattivi, members of OC EMS Haz Mat Team and the Rural First Responder Corps, as well as the Ouray County Director of Public Health Cheryl Roberts and the county’s Emergency Manager Alan Stahle. Also in attendance were Ouray City Manager Patrick Rondinelli, Ridgway Town Manager Greg Clifton and Ouray County Administrator Connie Hunt, as well as representatives from the Ouray Volunteer Fire Department and the City of Ouray Department of Public Works.

The TTX began with introductions and then quickly got down to business with a Power Point presentation and discussion about the transportation of hazardous materials on Highway 550, a restricted route, and what is typically encountered. This was followed up with a discussion of fuel haulers, the largest percentage of Haz Mat transporters on Hwy. 550 including the anatomy of a DOT 306 type trailer. 

From there the lecture portion continued with a brief review/overview on how to use the DOT’s Emergency Response guide (ERG), which is carried in every emergency vehicle, law enforcement, fire suppression or EMS. After the review on this valuable response tool to a chemical incident, the TTX got down to the actual scenario.

Various questions were poised from the most basic – who would be the Incident Commander – to when and how would the various city, town and county managers and elected officials be notified and their respective roles in supporting an operation such as this. From there a facilitated discussion was held on the various tactics that would be needed to deal with the various problems: evacuating the hotels, businesses and pedestrians off of Main Street in the effected portions of the city. Diverting traffic both locally and regionally, which would involve notifying and coordination with C-DOT and the CSP to reroute traffic at the intersection of Hwy 550 and 62 to send through traffic around Lizard Head at the north end and stoppage and rerouting of traffic in Silverton and Durango. 

In the meantime, other issues needed to be addressed: rescue of the trapped big rig driver, laying a foam blanket on the spilled gasoline to suppress vapors as well as diverting run off and protecting the storm drains, damming and diking 6th Avenue to capture runoff and prevent as much fuel as possible from finding its way into the Uncompahgre River. 

The problems continued with where to evacuate everyone. While local residents may choose to leave town or go stay with nearby family members, what was to be done with all of the out of town tourists? Especially those who had to leave their belongings behind in their respective motels, bed & breakfasts and personal vehicles.

Issues like mutual aid, recall of off-duty personnel, setting up various radio communications nets so information was not lost or radio frequencies overcrowded and made ineffective as well as notification of down river entities to the fuel spill and river contamination including the Ridgway State Park and ranchers that draw irrigation water for their fields and live stock from the river. (One participant observed that the fuel runoff in the irrigation ditches could be utilized to assist the ranchers in burning the weeds out of their waterways.) Another issue brought up was who to contact for an immediate and accurate local weather report.

The TTX concluded with an actual Table Top response to the incident on a large two-table map drawn on butcher paper with toy fire, EMS and law enforcement vehicles and figures. The over three-hour event was concluded with an after action review. Many of the participants went away with many new questions and ideas on how to update their respective incident response plans and guidelines, including cost recovery.

All agreed the TTX was a success and hopes were expressed that this would not be the last one.
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