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Hazardous spill drill helps first responders, hospital staff prepare in case of an emergency

DeKALB – At noon Thursday, Engine 1 from the DeKalb Fire Department responded to a 911 call for a chemical spill outside Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital where 30 patients awaited, exposed to a toxic material from an overturned semitrailer.

The call wasn’t real, however. It was created by Sharon Hebert, emergency management coordinator for the hospital who played a role in the incident command team. The emergency: a semitrailer carting a chemical called glyphosphate, which is a herbicide, overturned, spraying a nearby field of bystanders where a company was hosting a family picnic. Although not deadly, exposure could cause shortness of breath, redness and irritation to skin and eyes, and chemical burns on the body.

“We’re looking to see, do they know the policies and procedures?” Hebert said. “Do our plans work well with the fire and EMS side? Do our plans complement each other, and does our procedure work?”

The scenario was part of a full-scale training exercise meant to give first responders a chance to practice their emergency protocols in the event of an actual hazardous material incident, and allow for emergency room staff at the hospital to test triage management. Teams from the Northwestern Medicine Emergency Medical Services, DeKalb County Hazmat Team, the DeKalb Fire Department, Ridge Ambulance and ATec Ambulance staged the emergency designed to improve coordination, response times and training plans.

Senior nursing students at Northern Illinois University received extra credit for class by volunteering to play “victims” in the scenario. Each patient, spattered with dried shaving cream and flour to mimic glyphosphate, and chocolate sauce to mimic chemical burns, pretended to be a person with different ailments.

“It gives you sympathy,” said Niko Angulo, 21, who was playing a 41-year-old father whose child goes missing in the chemical chaos. “It’s because you know how it feels to be on the other side of things.”

Jamie Barry, 21, who played a 55-year-old mom also with a missing child, said she hopes to use the scenario for future reference in her nursing career.

“We’re here for the education component, so we know what’s going to happen,” Barry said.

When firefighters arrived, DeKalb fire Lt. Jim Carani said it’s their job to make quick decisions to get the patients from a state of distress to the hospital as quickly as possible, and at the same time work to contain and decontaminate the area.

“The first companies that arrive size everything up, get a patient count and then the incident builds from there,” Carani said.

The DeKalb Fire Department’s EMT and MABAS hazmat team set up an “on-scene” triage station, simulating immediate emergency efforts in which they would likely strip the clothing off anyone contaminated, hose off a person’s entire body, any provide medical treatment as needed, in this case oxygen and intravenous fluids, before loading victims into ambulances and driving them to the hospital.

They must also keep contaminated substances such as clothing and water runoff from leaking into surrounding areas.

The teams, led by Battalion Chief Don Faulhaber, then placed patients in four triage categories based on level of medical need.

As patients were transported to the hospital, an ER team suited up in protective gear and assessed the patients outside, guiding them through decontamination showers patients entered from outside, where they scrubbed for at least five minutes.

“This is a very realistic scenario,” said DeKalb firefighter/paramedic Patrick Eriksen. “We have so many chemical tankers that come into town every single day, through the railroad, the tollway. Thank goodness we haven’t had to deal with it, but this is why we do these things, to practice.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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