This week’s emergency exercise involving the release of toxic chemicals did more than turn a lot of heads during rush hour. It gave first responders real-life experience in dealing with dangerous situations.

“Things worked out very, very well,” said Rand Hooton, chairman of the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). “Everyone was very satisfied with the results.”

The drill took place Tuesday and involved a panel truck which was supposed to be carrying paraquat dichloride - a chemical categorized as very hazardous. The truck was involved in an accident and the county’s preparedness was put to the test.

“The chemical is an herbicide which is commonly used by local farmers. It is also very dangerous and takes only a bit to cause harm or even be fatal,” Hooton said. “In our scenario it was hit by another vehicle and the 500 gallons of chemical were compromised.”

The exercise was staged in the old Jay C parking lot at 5 p.n. Tuesday. Greensburg Police cordoned off the area while EMS got ready to help the victims and the Greensburg Fire Department weighed its rescue options.

“The best part of a drill like this is it shows us our firefighters are trained well enough to know what situations they can handle and which ones need outside help,” Hooton said. “None of them rushed into a place they shouldn’t have. They took their time, assessed the damage and most importantly, learned about the hazardous substance in play.”

Aside from the on-scene activities the exercise tested a number of other factors as well. More than 15 agencies, from media to the Greensburg Wastewater Department needed to be contacted and all had roles to play.

“If things were ever really to get out of hand, a lot of departments most people wouldn’t think of would need to be called,” Hooton said. “Even simple things like record keeping and cutting checks need to be planned for.”

Overall, Hooton found it relatively easy to get everyone involved.

“Just about all of them came to the scene or responded to the emergency operations center we had set up at the fire department,” he said. “We did find we had a few bad phone numbers but that’s what this does. It shows us not only what we know but what we don’t know.”

Another component was the roll out of the Greensburg Fire Department’s decontamination equipment. They purchased the gear with the help of the Emergency Management Agency and its director Iris Wilhoit.

“She was instrumental in getting us this through grant money,” said Firefighter Andy Witkemper. “Without her, we wouldn’t have any of this equipment.”

Once the exercise wrapped up, most of those involved recessed back to the GFD for a debriefing. The news was very positive.

“I thing we are in really good shape countywide,” Hooton said. “We have some very talented and capable people taking care of us.”

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