If asked to describe a chlorine reaction, most individuals would cite eye irritation or green-tinged hair that occurs after a day spent zipping down waterslides or splashing in a community pool. Reactions to highly-diluted chlorine are mild and subside within hours, but higher concentrations of chlorine exposure can be harmful, even fatal – a scenario that provides the backdrop for this year’s Mass Casualty Incident [MCI] training for Paramedics and Firefighters in St. Charles County.
Organized by St. Charles County Ambulance District (SCCAD) with support from Fire Protection Districts throughout the county, the combination MCI/Hazardous Material (Hazmat) training will take place throughout the month of May on the grounds of St. Charles Community College’s School of Nursing and Allied Health. Planners of the drill will stage a major chlorine release with simulated toxic results. First responders will put clinical and critical thinking skills to the test while removing victims from the unsafe environment, decontaminating them and relocating those impacted to safe locations. In addition to ambulances and fire trucks, non-traditional response apparatus such as utility terrain vehicles will be utilized.
“This year’s focus on Hazmat is something we’ve wanted to incorporate for some time, as it gives us a lot of variables to test our teams’ ability to strategically manage the scenario. For instance, we must pay close attention to environmental conditions – a shift in wind direction can rapidly change the scope of the situation,” said SCCAD Training Officer Rick Lane, who heads the MCI exercise each year.
Though it was planned weeks in advance, the selection of chlorine as the chemical agent involved became quite timely following the April 7 chemical attack in Douma, Syria. Chlorine and nerve agent sarin are believed to have been used in the attack that left more than 40 dead. Exposure to concentrated levels of chlorine gas can lead to fluid build-up in the lungs, a condition known as pulmonary edema. Symptoms of exposure include wheezing, labored breathing, sore throat and chest tightness, among others.
The multi-faceted exercises kick off on May 1 and run through May 31 at the Community College’s Allied Health Facility in O’Fallon, MO. In total, nearly 500 first responders will take part in the training. Residents in the neighboring Barathaven neighborhood received advance notification to ensure they are aware the scenarios are simulated for training purposes.