By Chuck Cannon, Fort Polk Guardian staff writerMarch 27, 2009
EXERCISE EXERCISE EXERCISE
Shortly after 8:30 a.m. March 18, an explosion rocked Fort Polk near the intersection of Louisiana and Alabama avenues, sending a plume of yellow-colored gas drifting across the post.
Casualties could be seen lying on the ground up to 100 meters away from a flatbed truck parked across the street from Burger King. The truck contained cylinders of what would later prove to contain chlorine gas.
Immediately, police officers, firefighters, emergency medical services and explosive ordnance disposal personnel arrived on the scene. Fort Polk's Emergency Operations Center was activated and representatives from every directorate manned their station, working to ensure the safety of Soldiers and Family members.
EXERCISE EXERCISE EXERCISE
As indicated by the word "EXERCISE," the above scenario was planned to test Fort Polk's ability to respond to an emergency. Howard Thrasher, EOC supervisor, said the exercise served to validate post emergency plans.
"This exercise was based on our mission scenario list, or MSL," Thrasher said.
At the location of the bomb blast, EOD Soldiers were the first to move toward the suspect vehicle.
"Our team leader goes in, checks to see if there might possibly been more explosive devices, tries to determine the type of explosive and counts the number of casualties for the fire department," said Sgt. Chauncy Mays, a member of the 705th Explosive Ordnance Detatchment team. "If the team leader goes down, I'll gear up and go in and get him."
While EOD Soldiers determine the numbers and types of casualties, Fort Polk firefighters set up a decontamination area, including water showers and a tent with sprayers to remove hazardous materials from victims.
"We move the casualties through a cold water shower first," said Fort Polk firefighter Capt. Thomas Craig. "That closes the pores so contaminants don't sink in. Then we move them through hot water that removes any contaminants that are left."
After decontamination, casualties were sent to ambulance crews, manned by MedExpress emergency medical technicians, for removal to the hospital.
Also on hand were police officers and 25 members from the state fire marshal's office, as well as local ambulance and firefighters from DeRidder, Leesville and Sandy Hill.
State Fire Marshal Capt. Robbie Baker said his personnel were there "in case we're needed. We were written into the scenario as being on hand due to a hurricane approaching the southwestern Louisiana Gulf coast."
Baker said that if local firefighters were injured, state fire marshal firefighters would replace them.
"We'll do whatever we can to assist," Baker said.
The scenario was developed by civilian personnel in support of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Installation Protection Program. Preston Smith headed up the team of evaluators sent to monitor the exercise.
"We used Fort Polk's general layout and their ideas to help develop the exercise," Smith said. "Our job is to observe their use of the equipment they were given as part of the CBRN IPP. That includes the decon shelter, the giant voice system that can be heard throughout the post, a telephone alert system and weather pack."
After the scenario plays out, Smith said the members of his team brief post personnel on their observations.
"We take the facts, put them together and go over things that were both good and need improvement," Smith said. "We don't give them a pass or fail, we're just subject matter experts who are here to help them do things better."
After the exercise, Thrasher said he was pleased with how the EOC worked.
"I think our ability to handle any situation is high," he said. "We've been through a lot of storms that have made our team strong. We're now working on these types of scenarios instead of storms."
Thrasher said he saw a lot of improvement since the last similar scenario held in 2008.
"That's the goal - to get better," he said. "We worked our plans well and learned a lot."