Emergency responders trained for potential disaster at the Port of Catoosa Tuesday.
There are over 65 companies at the port, and employees say many deal with hazardous materials.
“This is a real world scenario; this is something that could actually happen,” Bradley Banks, assistant manager of operations at the port said.”
A port employee pretending to be a robber trying to steal ammonia, maybe for some sort of chemical weapon, or drugs, ends up setting off a hazardous disaster.
“It’s a concern that we have out here, that’s one of the reasons—because we are an industrial park,” Susan McWatters is the port employee who played Tuesday’s robber.
As part of the simulation, smoke billowed from a rail car.
“The ammonia started to smoke, which meant I inhaled the gas and was starting to have automatic symptoms.”
With eyes burning and problems breathing the fire department’s HazMat team stepped in to hose down the pretend perpetrator three times, scrubbing any dangerous substance as way.
The scenario didn’t involve flashing lights and car sirens—the initial siren sounded at 8:30 and crews didn’t arrive until about 9:15.
Banks says that was part of the drill.
“They get a call that they have a hazardous material spill, they’re not just going to jump in their trucks and run out here like the cavalry.”
He tells us crews have to be diligent in their attack, gathering as much information as possible.
And although Banks and McWatters say the Port hasn’t had any real emergencies similar to this staging exercise, they say it is good practice.
“You have to be able to know how your first responders are a going to respond, and how they’re going to coordinate that response together,” McWatters said.