Safety tested

Firetrucks and emergency service personnel surrounded a major crash between a city bus, a military vehicle and a tractor-trailer hauling a tanker of crude oil Tuesday morning. People were pulled out of the bus by firefighters wearing masks before they knew what was in the tanker and police officers arrested several people who tried to steal the military vehicle, which was loaded with explosives and firearms.

The only thing that didn’t make this incident too much to handle is the fact that it was all staged as a multi-part exercise to test emergency services in Minot and the surrounding area.

Emergency personnel didn’t have to deal with the real-world scenario of this accident occurring in the middle of busy city streets surrounded by residential and commercial properties and rubberneckers desperate to get as close as possible to all the action despite the possible presence of fumes and explosives.

“It would depend on what the material is,” Rob Knuth, the incident commander for the exercise, said about how they would deal with real-world contaminants. “We follow the emergency response guide which lays out if it’s this material this is the evacuation protocols for it. So, we identify what the material is, we go into the ERG, it tells us step by step.”

Knuth is the assistant chief of the Minot Rural Fire Department and became the incident commander because he was the first senior firefighter on the scene.

“To avoid confusion we establish command so that everyone knows that there is one person in charge and that everyone reports to and works for that one individual. That way we don’t have 10 people going 10 different directions,” he said.

After that initial set-up the various responding agencies, which include ambulance, fire and police responders, set up a “unified command” for the incident and work together in directing their personnel.

In this scenario, the responders first identified the hazardous material present, which was crude oil for this situation, and then firefighters went in to the vehicles and the surrounding area while wearing safety gear like gas masks to locate and remove victims.

After the material has been determined they also set up a controlled environment to mitigate the spill and secure all further victims.

“Unfortunately we have to prioritize viable patients versus non-viable patients,” Knuth said. “In a situation like this when we are doing a rapid assessment we will go in and grab the viable patients we know we can save and then get out. Then we go back and assist the others. Unfortunately the two that were identified (dead on arrival) for the exercise priority will stay where they are because they’re our last priority.”

After roughly an hour and a half all the steps, including the simulated removal of the vehicles by a wrecking crew, were done and Knuth dissolved the emergency command. That was time for part two, where Trinity Hospital, in Minot, assessed their ability to respond to a surge of victims from a disaster.

“We participated in a community-wide exercise to test our ability to surge at the hospital so we get the right staff and adequate resources,” said Randy Schwan, a vice president at the hospital, in summary. “In this case, for example, we were expecting that we could run low on ventilators so we implemented a plan that we could get more of those resources brought up from the state health department.”

Some were treated immediately but contaminated patients were cared for by staff in protective suits who guided them through disrobing, removing the contaminants, and then protecting themselves from further contamination through the use of masks and protective clothing before being treated.

“We learned a lot of things as we expect to on any type of exercise. A lot of things that we assumed would work didn’t actually work. … So, those are the types of things you need to test and you don’t normally test them during normal business operation on a normal day so we found there are holes that we need to fill,” Schwan said. “We found that people need to be more familiar with the procedure so this helps us get there.”