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Crews practice HAZMAT drill

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A woman is carried by firefighters from the scene of a HAZMAT drill involving a van and a train.


The Daily Advance

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

What started as an accident between a van and a train quickly turned into a more deadly scenario involving the plague — but luckily it was only a hazardous materials drill played out in Perquimans and Chowan counties on Saturday.

About 100 emergency officials, including firefighters, paramedics and emergency management workers took part in the session, which started in Winfall and included Vidant Chowan Hospital.

The effort was coordinated by the Chowan-Perquimans Local Emergency Management Planning Committee, said Jonathan Nixon, Perquimans County’s EMS director.

In the exercise, a van ran into the side of a Chesapeake and Albemarle train at a crossing. In the process, lime spilled from a train car and coated the scene.

Firefighters removed four people from the vehicle and they were transported to Vidant Chowan Hospital. But in the process of getting the people out, firefighters discovered a metal cylinder that was hissing. Tests indicated it contained the plague.

Mary Spruill, emergency management coordinator for Vidant Chowan Hospital and Vidant Bertie Hospital said the “victims” were actually transported to Edenton and nurses met the ambulances outside to see the patients. She said the drill was limited because the emergency room actually was busy at that time.

Spruill said the nurses went out to meet the ambulances because “you don’t know what you are dealing with at that point.”

Nixon said that as part of the exercise, state officials estimated where the plume of plaque could have been carried by the wind and law enforcement staged a simulated effort to notify the residents in that area.

Su Son, the general manager of the railroad watched the scene unfold.

“It’s good to see them doing this,” he said.

If the event were real, an emergency shelter would have been set up at Perquimans County High School, officials said.

The drill continued on Monday when staff from Albemarle Regional Health Services worked through how they might get antibiotics in the hands of people who needed them to fight off the plague. That meeting was planned for Edenton.

In the drill, a bus fitted out to be an ambulance was actually brought over from Currituck County and tractor-trailers with emergency equipment from Williamston arrived at the scene. If the event were real, some of that may have taken a lot longer to get to the scene than the four hours the drill lasted Saturday.

The drill included a decontamination area where HAZMAT crews who were near the leaking tank could clean up.


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