DOTHAN FIRE DEPARTMENT Chief Dennis L. Rubin Personnel: 174 career firefighters Apparatus: 12 paramedic engines, two ladder trucks, one heavy rescue, two battalion chiefs, one rehab unit, one air-and-light truck, one rescue trailer, one customer service unit Population: 60,000 Area: 83...
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Lessons Learned & Reinforced
During the incident critique, a number of lessons learned and reinforced were discussed:
- There is a pressing need for a large command post vehicle in which command team members from the police and fire department can work shoulder to shoulder. A police cruiser was matched up to the back of a fire department command vehicle. This got us through the event, but it was difficult to communicate and coordinate using the awkward platforms. A unified command post vehicle is under construction.
- An "evacuate" doorknob hanger was developed in the aftermath of this call. The idea is to use this bright green marker to help keep track of areas that have been or need to be searched.
Further, it will serve as a notice to someone who arrives late to a home that has already been cleared. In addition, if the occupant is asleep or hard of hearing, the doorknob hanger can be a visual clue to get out.
- The Red Cross asked us for a much closer evacuee (shelter bound) count so that preparations can be made as soon as possible.
- A special-needs (initially a higher level of medical support) shelter should have been opened to accommodate people with medical-support requirements.
- When visibility is reduced or zero, a lifeline must be taken in with the operational crew. The first entry team becoming lost was an uncomfortable feeling for all involved members.
- Thermal imaging cameras would have been a great help. Command and the hazmat branch could have kept up with the crews' movements in and out of the gas cloud. An additional camera might have been useful for the entry teams to use to help locate the leaking pipe. However, it would have to have been protected from the spewing acid vapor.
This was one of the best-run large-scale incidents that the author has ever attended. The unified command process was a key to keeping everyone informed and working within the same action plan. Each agency performed at maximum efficiency and effectiveness.
Although this was a difficult situation, it could have been many times worse. Regional preparation and training once again "saved the day" and helped us prevent harm in our community.
A local physician, Dr. Steve Stokes, is pursuing a grant to fund research on the long-term effects of the anhydrous ammonia leak on humans. If funded, this study would gather some of the first data on the long-term effects of this readily available commodity.