It looked seriously official and seemed quite alarming, if only for a short while on the night of May 26, as the Cordova Volunteer Fire Department responded en masse to a mock ammonia leak at Trident Seafoods’ North Facility.
If citizens heard the alarm sound that evening, they themselves might have been alarmed – yet they soon came to know the fire department was conducting their regular Thursday night meeting. Although the firefighters and EMS crew might look at first glance like they’re having a good time, the volunteer members of the department are serious about their work.
One man, resting outside near the propane tanks at Trident’s plant, appeared to be a victim of the made-up scenario, as he coughed, choked and wheezed, obviously in distress. He was testing out his fine acting skills, pretending to be an employee who had possibly inhaled ammonia during the leak and needed to be checked out by medical crews.
The drill was a cooperative effort between Trident and CVFD, which allowed personnel at both organizations the chance to work side-by-side during the mock accident. It also provided Trident Seafoods with an opportunity to test-run their emergency response protocols set in place at the north facility.
“The drill went really smoothly between Trident and CVFD. Everyone was familiar with their part of the emergency response plan and was able to get all of the tasks accomplished in a timely manner. The staff at Cordova Community Medical Center even let us deliver our mannequin ‘patient’ to the emergency room, so that our medics and the nursing staff could practice handing off the treatment of a victim in critical condition,” said James Thorne, a firefighter-medic and CVFD’s training coordinator.
Katherine Mead, a medic with CVFD who also has previous volunteer firefighting experience, was in charge of accountability at the site that night. Fire departments use accountability and accountability boards to keep track of resources, such as rigs and people, and to make sure no one ends up missing.
“Accountability usually wants to be in an area where they can see the overall picture, but not in the hot zone. The use of an accountability board helps track resources and places searched. With good communications, accountability has been done at the fire hall while operations occurred at Sheridan glacier,” Mead said. “A medic usually ends up doing accountability because the firefighters are busy dealing with the danger.”
Mead has been a member of CVFD for three years.
“I like how the fire department and Trident tie their practices together so we will be better prepared when a real emergency occurs,” Mead said.
This is the second year CVFD and Trident have done a combined drill with the response team at Trident North. Trident’s response team were calm, ready and collected, ready to handle any situation.
Working together, applying training in an emergency situation and having skills become an immediate response is exactly the point of drill nights like these.
“These drills allow each individual to apply a variety of the skills they have learned toward achieving a realistic objective. For this drill the firefighters used what they have learned from HAZMAT operations class, as well as interior search class. The medics needed to apply their skills in patient assessment and treatment of breathing problems, in addition to having to deal with multiple patients simultaneously,” said Thorne.
Fire Chief Mike Hicks was the incident commander for the Trident drill. Captain Dana Smyke led Rescue 1 with firefighters Cody Handley and Stephen Phillips. This company conducted the search and subsequent rescue of the victim with the assistance of the Trident North response team.
Engineer Mike Galambush led Engine 3 with firefighters Sam Christe, Eric Long and Jeff Rice; this company set up decontamination.
Captain Paul Trumblee led Engine 2 with firefighter Dustin Solberg. Trumblee and Solberg took care of securing the hydrant.
Captain Becki Shipman led the Emergency Medical Services company with medics Linda Brown, Katherine Mead, Mark Meredith and Emily Stolarcyk. This crew kept track of personnel on scene and provided medical care to the injured.
Capt. Shipman said the department participates in these types of drills and numerous others, because even though these things don’t happen very often in Cordova, they do happen.
“When we are called out to a live ammonia leak at one of the canneries – and it has happened, it is fast and furious. We have many people scared and running towards the ambulance in large numbers. They trust that we know how to help them,” Shipman said.
Ideally, regular trainings between processors and other businesses within the community and CVFD will allow all responders involved to operate as well-oiled, life-saving teams.
“Weekly trainings are held every Thursday night that prepare us for many type of drills, but to be honest, there’s no better learning experience than an actual call out. We often return to the fire hall as a group and debrief. We talk about what went really well, what we could do differently next time that may make the flow of the outpouring individuals flow more smoothly, as well as any other incidents that we feel as a group were done very well or could be improved upon,” said Shipman.
Shipman went on to say that from there, they take the new knowledge and put together a drill to see if their critiques and ideas from the previous debriefing do, in fact, work better than their previous procedures.
“Our department never stops learning. No procedure is ever written in stone. We find safer and more efficient ways to do things through our real calls, the following debriefing and brainstorming, and then putting into practice our new ideas by doing a drill,” Shipman said.
“It’s also a great way to become familiar with the safety managers from the cannery or whichever entity we are training with. I cannot stress enough that the debriefing and brainstorming sessions that follow a real call, or a practice drill, are the key to learning to save lives and property, and by far the most important aspect of everything we do.”
Shipman thought the Trident-CVFD drill went well, even though the department was a little short on manpower, which happens on sunny drill nights in Cordova from time to time.
“As usual, we made do and got it done with what we had available,” she said.
“Anytime we can practice our skills in a scenario that could possibly happen in Cordova we become better prepared in the event of an actual emergency,” Thorne said.
The Cordova Volunteer Fire Department has about 33 members.
For more information on joining the department and requirements, contact CVFD at 907-424-6117 or visit them on the web at