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Disaster day drill

‘Leak’ teaches rescue skills

August 8, 2010
By HANS MADSEN, Messenger staff writer

DUNCOMBE - The ammonia "leak" inside the Koch Refinery Saturday morning that injured several workers and left the hazardous substance spewing into the air was enough for any fire department to handle, even with help.

Then all hell broke loose.

A bus collided with a another vehicle in front of the plant, injuring eight Boy Scouts and several drivers, tying up even more resources.

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Fort Dodge firefighters Nate Conrad, left, and Pat Greve, wearing full-body protective gear, work to fix an ammonia 'leak' Saturday morning during a full-scale disaster drill at the Koch Nitrogen plant near Duncombe.

Luckily for everyone, the whole incident was a carefully planned, full-scale disaster exercise.

Members of Fort Dodge Boy Scout Troop 8 got to be victims at the crash site. They spent the early morning getting "wounds" applied by Daphne Willworth, the emergency nurse manager at Trinity Regional Medical Center.

Some of them were pretty bad.

Zephan O'Connor, 11, had his whole hand burned.

"I'm just happy I didn't get these in real life," he said, proudly holding up the hideously injured latex hand he was wearing like a glove.

"It smells like rubber," he said before warning another Scout, "Don't sniff my wound."

Once the drill began, it was quickly realized that the plant workers who had been injured had already been taken to Trinity Regional Medical Center by co-workers.

This left the fire crews with a leak to shut down and ammonia vapors to control.

Fire crews from Vincent, Duncombe, Stratford and Jewell took care of that, spraying water mist into the ammonia "cloud" while they waited for the Region 5 Hazmat truck to get into position, suited up and to the leak.

Fort Dodge Fire Department Capt. Paul Neeson was assigned to be one of the operations officers. He helped as firefighters Nate Conrad and Pat Greve put on the hot plastic suits upwind of the leak as a decontamination center was set up for when they returned.

Koch Nitrogen operators Kory Chance and Jim Murray suited up too, they volunteered to help with the decontamination which means spraying down and scrubbing the suited up firefighters.

Children's wading pools are used to catch the runoff, Neeson explained that they are cheap to use and can be thrown away once used. They are also colorful.

Gary Miller, Vincent Fire Chief, was the designated incident commander. He was kept busy dispatching units and coordinating the efforts.

He explained that his while his department tours the Koch Nitrogen plant on a yearly basis, the opportunity to work with other departments and the Koch employees, "Benefits everybody."

Jewell firefighter Shawnda DeWitt spent most of her time at the exercise helping to spray water mist into the ammonia "cloud."

She said that she learned a lot during the exercise even though it left her, "Hot and worn out."

She also rated it a success.

"We're all here," she said. "We're all back."

Bringing so many different agencies together for an exercise requires a lot of planning.

Tony Jorgensen, Webster County emergency coordinator, said the work to put it all together began about nine months ago.

"Any large incident will require a multi-agency response," he said.

That also includes planning, he worked with many others to put the drill together.

"It's a good opportunity for the different responders to work together," he said.

One of the goals of an exercise is to identify any problems that might occur, he said that one of the glitches Saturday revolved around communication.

"There was a delay at the beginning in getting the command system set up," he said. "Poor staging officer."

Part of that was due to all the agencies being on the scene at once, he said that during a real incident their arrival would be staggered, stressing the system less.

Koch Nitrogen plant manager Mark Schroeder was happy with the exercise. He said that in addition to helping out the local responders, it also helps the employees at the plant.

"Everybody is thinking through," he said. "This helps everybody stay a step ahead and helps the agencies get familiar with the plant and the people, it takes it to a new level."

He said that working with the agencies is part of the company's commitment to the safety of its workers, residents of the area and keeping environmental impact to a minimum.

After the exercise is completed, everyone met to discuss the day and how it went, a session known as a Hot Wash where the things that went right and wrong are talked about and suggestions for improvements made.

Yes, there's a grade for Jorgensen too.

"We're tested too," he said.

Contact Hans Madsen at (515) 573-2141 or



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