Agencies respond to ‘disaster’ at Sinclair
Simulation designed around real world scenario
By David Louis
RAWLINS — What happens when terrorism strikes Carbon County? Who responds and in what manner? How does emergency personnel handle an event that changes by the second? How do they overcome obstacles and face what could be a deadly situation?
A simulated Hazmat incident Friday on a Union Pacific rail siding across from Sinclair Refinery sought answers to these questions.
More than 50 members from the Wyoming National Guard, Carbon County and Rawlins’ fire and police departments, Laramie Police Department bomb squad, Carbon County Public Health and coroner participated in the more than four-hour long exercise.
A Union Pacific manager of train operations reported a leaking train car on the east end of the Sinclair Refinery rail yard. The UP employee, suspecting foul play, said a silver Ford F-150 with Colorado license plates fled the scene heading west on Lincoln Highway, with the occupants covering their faces as they sped away.
The objectives of the exercise was to establish emergency operation center within 30 minutes of the initial call, respond to the incident and provide appropriate Hazmat response and to develop situational awareness and request assistance when needed.
The immediate threat was leaking ISO butane from a train car possibly caused as an act of eco-terrorism.
The purpose of the exercise included the evaluation of operational coordination among the different agencies responding, establishing operational communications and conducting an environmental response the Hazmat incident while addressing health and safety concerns, said Lt. Col. Dane Rodgers, training officer with Wyoming National Guard Joint Forces Headquarters.
“This exercise is designed to help the county, city and Sinclair to set up an emergency operations center and then establish communications to practice what a real world scenario would look like,” Rodgers said.
“Initially, the challenge (is) understanding of what the scenario is and the common operating picture, and relaying that information to the people who need it,” he said. “We tried to make an exercise that was plausible and something that could happen, but with this exercise, the timeframe is going to be compressed a lot than a real world (scenario) would be.
“Don’t fight the scenario,” he said. “ A lot of it is making decisions and seeing how plans are working, and seeing if there are things we can improve on.”
Emergency managers universally agree the key to success for any staged or planned exercise is establishing an Incident Command System (ICS) protocol and having one unifying voice taking charge.
Sinclair Refinery Assistant Fire Chief Bob Clark was that voice.
“Establishing a command center, identifying the person or people that will be in charge and then getting communication between the various agencies is something that need to be done right away,” Rodgers said prior to the start of the exercise. “By doing this, the operation will go much smoother and be more successful.”
ICS protocol is a standardized approach to the command, control and coordination of emergency response that provides a common hierarchy within which responders from multiple agencies can be effective.
The initial call went out shortly after 10 a.m.
First on scene was Sinclair Chief of Police Jeff Sanders, who remained at a distance assessing the situation. Sanders, a seasoned pro, knew the danger. A leaking rail car with an unknown substance and two civilians “bodies” crumpled alongside had the chief immediately calling in support.
“Each incident is its own entity. There’s kind of a process based upon the event you’re dealing with. Without ICS, an event like this would be a total disaster,” Sanders said.
“Any incident scene is going to be chaotic. If you’re the first person on scene you have to deal with what is available,” he said. “Once the location is secure, then you can set up and Incident Command. When this happens, there isn’t a specific timetable; it’s all based on how the event plays out. It’s usually a very fluid situation and you deal with as it comes.”
Within minutes, the first responders — members from Sinclair Fire Department — arrived and quickly suited up.
While the crew of three quickly assessed the situation and donned respirators, one firefighter went down as he approached the casualties, a “victim” of possible faulty gear. The wind shifted, blowing the “noxious fumes” east, overcoming another firefighter.
By 10:30 a.m., the location was a beehive of activity.
Some of the challenges emergency personnel faced included communication hurdles to overcome with Sinclair responders who were on an independent radio frequency instead of utilizing WyoLink capable radios like the rest of the responders.
Although a workaround was quickly developed, there was nothing that could have been done about the shirtsleeve weather.
With a respirator weighing in at 40 pounds and protective gear another 20, the above normal temperature soon had fire fighters sucking wind as they removed the injured from ground zero.
By 11:45 a.m., the call went out that a simulated evacuation of the Town of Sinclair and refinery had been completed.
Nearly one hour later, an aircrew from Classic Air Medical based in Riverton lifted off with one critically injured first responder from a staging area one mile from the incident.
It was then with the injured removed that the bomb squad and the Sinclair Refinery Emergency Response Team went work to secure the area.
Ultimately, at least two fire fighters and two civilians “died” as a result of their “injuries.”
In the waning minutes of the simulation Rodgers said he was pleased with how the agencies performed.
“It’s been a really good exercise,” he said. “It was kind of unrealistic on the timeframe, but everyone has been making really good decisions. The biggest challenge has been the confusion with the exercise and people at the scene.”
Carbon County Emergency Management Coordinator John Zeiger categorized the training in two simple sentences.
“We had a few glitches, but that what the exercise is for,” Zeiger said. “Communications is always going to be an issue, but overall I’m very pleased and it was worth the time and effort.”