It began with a call to 9-1-1. An alleged hazardous material was seen leaking from a truck parked in an industrial lot along 46th St. in Lacombe, causing concern to a passerby.
Shortly after the call, the Lacombe Fire Department (LFD) was promptly dispatched and following their assessment made from a safe distance, the regional mutual aid system was activated, bringing in multiple resources to deal with the emergency situation.
The above incident that occurred last Thursday afternoon was a planned exercise, a scenario to test mutual aid and cooperation between emergency resources within the Lacombe County region.
Chair of the Lacombe County Mutual Aid Organization and Agrium Safety Advisory Jim von Hollen said the ‘incident’ was merely a training exercise to prepare emergency resources and organizations for the future, for the what if.
“It is just a demonstration of what we train to do, we hope we never have to, but if something ever happens, we have the personnel to deal with it,” he said at the site.
Since 1998, through Lacombe County Mutual Aid, local industry and municipal response departments have been working together to ensure there is a plan in place to respond to emergencies in the region. The mutual aid organization demonstrates true partnership with a mindset solely to protect each other’s neighbours and keep the public safe.
von Hollen said the mutual aid organization could be called to action for many reasons – from small scale chemical releases to large scale natural disasters like tornadoes.
The exercise on Thursday involved several participating organizations including the Lacombe Police Service, LFD, the City of Lacombe, Red Deer Emergency Services, Alberta Health Services, Lacombe County, Praxair Canda, Dow/ME Global, Agrium, Nova Chemicals, the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, musical theatre students from Lacombe Composite High School and the RCMP.
von Hollen said Agrium has specialized expertise and resources to deal with specific incidents involving hydrous ammonia, which is exactly what the scenario within the City of Lacombe involved.
Not long after the first 9-1-1 call was received and resources were called into action, a second call was received about another incident that was occurring outside of the city at the Dow/ME Global/Praxair Prentiss Site within Lacombe County. Mutual aid resources were quickly dispatched from the Nova Chemicals Joffre Site.
“What we had was an ammonia truck that had been tampered with that was releasing ammonia,” said von Hollen of the City scenario. “The idea was to draw all of our resources and responders into this and then with the detonation set off further away, all of our resources were tied up. It can stretch your resources, so that’s what we were mimicking here today.”
Completed live, in real-time, the emergency responders had to deal with five casualties at the industrial lot. One pumper truck was dispatched, along with two responding ambulances. Once Agrium arrived, a wash unit was brought out including bright yellow hazardous material suits to protect those directly dealing with the hydrous ammonia.
“Our response network is closely linked, which is necessary in the case of multiple incidents,” said LFD Chief Ed van Delden. “The ability to call upon our industry partners for assistance maximizes public safety and minimizes the impact of an emergency.
“Simulation exercises are an excellent opportunity for us to test and improve our response plans. Equally important, is that we’re able to build solid working relationships between a number of partners, before we need them.”
The scenario within the city took place over a period of two hours, followed by a debriefing session.