HAZMAT, hostages used to train EMA responders

Published 11:48 pm Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday night on the campus of Wallace Community College-Selma emergency response agencies from across Dallas County came together to participate in an EMA drill.

The Selma Police Department, Selma Fire Department, Dallas County EMA, and other safety agencies responded to two crisis situations— a chemical spill involving unknown objects and a hostage situation.

“Although there are plenty of other state agencies and federal agencies, we are actually exercising Dallas County’s ability to respond to an initial response,” said Fire Chief Michael Stokes.

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The drill was funded by a grant from the Alabama Department of Transportation and managed by Lee Helms Associates, who has been doing emergency drills across the state since the company was founded in 2003.

“They (Department of Transportation) want people to understand what kind of chemicals are in the area,” said Lee Helms. “And what kind of resources we have to deal with a possible transportation accident involving chemicals. So that is why we did that type of grant.”

Lee said one of the key issues of the training was to identify the resources each agencies needed to deal with the emergency situations that were covered.

“We need to identify the areas of improvement,” said Helms. “And then how will we improve them? Do we need equipment? Do we need training? Is it a combination of all of it? And this is the platform to do it, and a schedule to accomplish those improvements.”

Dallas County Emergency Management Agency Interim Director Rhonda Abbott said the agencies did not expect perfection during the test, but were still pleased about the results of the drill.

“We expected to learn a lot,” said Abbott. “And I think that was what happened.”

The drill began when firefighters responded to a call that an unknown substance had spilled following a wreck at Wallace Community College.

A HAZMAT team was dispatched to identify the spill and decontaminate victims who were involved with the wreck.

“ It’s hard to pretend to put out a fire,” said Stokes about the tests. “It’s hard to pretend to do these other activates like HAZMAT and detox.”

During the contamination drill, police officers were radioed about a possible hostage situation in one of the classrooms at Wallace Community College.

Police officers worked on surrounding the building and communicating effectively about the situation.

“In a real situation it would have been a little more hectic,” said Police Chief William Riley. “But I was pleased tonight how everybody functioned together. On the police side I was looking at how we positioned ourselves, how we contained the area and dealt the hostage situation.”

Stokes said he hoped this would not be the last time the agencies train together.

“I hope that everybody takes something,” said Stokes. “And I hope that this makes some of the other agencies want to do inter-agency drills even if it’s not this big a scale.”