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Antiterrorism drill provides good practice for emergency crews

June 15, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

Firefighters doused "injured" volunteers with water Wednesday morning and checked them for "radiation" during a joint antiterrorism drill involving a "dirty bomb" at Letterkenny Army Depot.

"Oh, my God. That's cold," one volunteer said as she was hosed down by a Letterkenny Fire Department firefighter. The volunteers, nursing students from the Franklin County Career and Technology Center, then stripped down to T-shirts and shorts and ran through a second shower between two firetrucks before being checked and scanned with a Geiger counter for radiation contamination.

The exercise involved the depot, the Franklin County Department of Emergency Services and the Regional Terrorism Task Force, according to a depot press release. Area fire and ambulance personnel, and staff from Chambersburg and Waynesboro, Pa., hospitals participated.

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The scenario involved an explosion at the depot's Radiologic Inspection Facility, a building within the depot's vast ammunition storage area where rocket motors and missile components are examined by an X-ray machine for defects, said John R. Gray, deputy commander of the depot. The drill, which had been months in the planning, came two days after an explosion killed two people at an Army ordnance plant in Iowa, Gray said.

"That's why you train for it, because you never know when it will happen," Gray said.

A smoke generator outside of the building was turned on shortly after 9 a.m., signaling the beginning of the exercise. Observer Linda Ordway of the depot's Risk Management Directorate logged events as they happened - a 911 call at 9:05 a.m.; an alarm sounded and a perimeter set up two minutes later; and the arrival of the depot fire department at 9:15 a.m.

Firefighters from the Franklin, Pleasant Hall and West End Fire & Rescue fire companies also came to the scene, Letterkenny Fire Chief Danny Byers said. Ambulances from Fayetteville, Greencastle, Chambersburg, Pleasant Hall, Shippensburg, South Mountain and St. Thomas were summoned to the depot, as well as advanced life support units from Fayetteville and West Shore ALS, Byers said.

The voluntary victims, some wearing makeup to depict wounds, were triaged at the scene and placed on red, yellow or green tarpaulins indicating the severity of their injuries. After being treated at the scene, they were taken by ambulance to the emergency rooms of Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals.

Twenty-eight people were seen at the hospitals and treated for "injuries" ranging from head trauma to eye injuries to "comforting the worried well," Summit Health spokeswoman Sheran White said.

"That's what happens in a real scenario," White said, explaining that in actual emergencies people come to emergency rooms worried about the fate of family or friends.

Franklin County Deputy Chief Clerk Jean Byers said county government conducted a simulated building lockdown as part of its participation in the drill.

Byers said the performance of the agencies and personnel involved in the exercise will be evaluated and training and policies adjusted to improve performance.

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