Dozens of firefighters rushed to a Greenwood business Friday morning as part of a training exercise for emergency workers on how to handle situations involving hazardous materials.
Firefighters were first told that they would be handling a mock fire at Mays Chemical, but the scenario quickly evolved to needing to practice identifying a container with a hazardous material inside that had spilled as a result of the hypothetical fire and then the procedures for decontaminating employees acting as the victims.
At more than 100 locations across Johnson County, companies routinely store and use dozens of chemicals that could be hazardous if there was a fire or accident.
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The hazardous materials can range from the gasoline stored at a convenience station to the phosphoric acid stored at Mays Chemical, all of which is dangerous because of how those materials can injure employees and emergency workers and how the chemicals may react during a fire.
Companies are required by law to file annual reports detailing any hazardous materials they store and use, so that fire departments and emergency responders can train and take the right precautions if called to the businesses for fire, chemical spill or other emergency.
The Johnson County Local Emergency Planning Committee led the training exercise, giving emergency workers an opportunity to practice the steps they would need to take when combating a fire at a business that stores and uses hazardous materials.
The scenario included about three dozen emergency workers responding to the report of a fire, followed by the discovery of a knocked over container of phosphoric acid and the decontamination of five Mays’ employees acting as the victims.
The Greenwood and White River fire departments and the Johnson County health and emergency management departments participated in the training, which included everyone from the 911 dispatchers to members of the Greenwood Fire Department hazmat team, Johnson County Emergency Management Department Director Stephanie Sichting said.
The training helps both emergency workers and Mays Chemical to know how to respond to fires around hazardous materials, she said.
Mays Chemical volunteered to serve as the location for the training as an opportunity for its employees to go through a training drill as well as giving emergency workers first-hand experience at the facility should they ever need to respond in a real emergency, company spokesperson Jeanette Jones said.
Johnson County is required to conduct a yearly emergency training exercise, but only conducts a full-scale one once every several years, Sichting said.
Carey Slauter, a member of the White River Fire Department and the emergency planning committee, set up the exercise with the focus on giving firefighters a chance to see how their procedures would work inside an actual business that uses hazardous materials.
While department managers knew that the drill was going to involve hazardous materials, the firefighters responding to the scene weren’t given that information ahead of time to test how they would respond, Slauter said.
Greenwood’s hazmat team — the only one in the county — goes out on calls a couple times a month, said Greenwood Fire Division Chief of Training Brian Johns.
Most of those incidents involve spills of fuel or chemicals, such as when phosphoric acid leaked from a container inside a truck on County Road 144 in May, he said.