Fire trucks and emergency vehicles were crowded around the historic Delaware County Courthouse for three days starting Jan. 22 -- not because there was an emergency, but because first responders want to be ready if one happens.

The event was a hazmat drill that involved every fire and EMS department in the county, said Sean Miller, director of Delaware County Emergency Management, which coordinated the event.

Hazardous materials pass through Delaware County every day, by road and rail, Miller said.

That "underscores the importance of these sorts of drills to maintain efficiency with response procedures, and also some of the equipment that's used," he said.

The most common hazardous-material spills are petroleum products, he said, such as gasoline, diesel fuel, motor oil and hydraulic fluid. But a variety of potentially dangerous industrial and agricultural materials regularly travels through the county as well, he said.

Spills can occur along roadways, he said, but also inside buildings, particularly manufacturing facilities.

The historic courthouse, 91 N. Sandusky St., was the site of an indoor hazmat scenario that formed the basis of the drill.

With a large incident, Miller said, multiple fire and EMS departments respond and take on different roles.

"Everyone has a designated function in a response like this," he said, "so it's testing the procedures established in hazardous-materials response."

During the drill, some practiced entry and assessing the spill; some rescued dummies portraying "victims" of the incident; and others prepared to decontaminate first responders and spill victims.

Those entering the spill site carried self-contained breathing apparatus, with about 45-60 minutes of air in each tank.

That requires monitoring their air supply, Miller said, because they will continue to use the apparatus during decontamination.

Some drill participants wore what are called Level A suits, covering them from head to toe to keep out gases and liquids.

Decontamination consists of rinsing off victims and first responders with water in a tent set up outdoors.

Full cleaning didn't take place in Jan. 22's freezing temperatures, Miller said, but in a real incident, cold weather won't stop decontamination.

"They have an inflatable tent they can put up very quickly and heaters they can attach to it," he said. "It's still going to be cold, but it's better than if they were out in the elements."

About 30 men and women participated each day of the drill, Miller said, including those coordinating the event. The event was held for three days to match the three-day rotation schedule of local fire departments, he said, which let more firefighters participate in the drill.

One of those helping coordinate the event was 1st Lt. Brian Spotloe of the Ohio National Guard's 52nd Civil Support Team, which trains to handle incidents involving weapons of mass destruction. The Ohio National Guard routinely conducts that training at different locations around the state, Spotloe said.

Miller said a representative of the Delaware PPG plant attended the drill as a private observer. Unlike some drills, Miller said, this one wasn't formally graded. But participants and organizers jotted down notes that can provide feedback for future operation procedures and exercises.

The drill scenario was developed by Capt. Scott Rice of the Orange Township Fire Department and Lt. Zach Wolfe of Delaware County Emergency Medical Services.

"This is an excellent opportunity for our regional DART hazmat team to work as a cohesive team," said Delaware fire Chief John Donahue.

"In addition, this will expose us to the capabilities, familiarity of personnel and the available resources and equipment that the 52nd Civil Support Team provides," Donahue said. "Our region has a large amount of hazardous materials that are used or produced within our county and also transported through our county. Training of our personnel allows us to be effective and efficient when these incidents occur."

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