Grand County first responders prepare for the worst by becoming the best
July 29, 2009
If you didn’t know it was a training, you would think it was the end of the world.During an exercise last week, the Grand Fire Protection District No. 1 fire tower was filled with smoke and a chemical spray similar to mace was released. Large tents used for the decontamination of people exposed to hazardous chemicals were erected.Grand County’s special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team was created last year. Called the Middle Park Emergency Response Team, it is made up of Winter Park, Granby and Kremmling police officers. The group gathered last week for a training exercise using gas masks.”The officers performed search and clearing exercises in the building while it was filled with smoke and contaminant,” said Granby Police Chief Bill Housley.Into the exercise, officers were then instructed to remove their masks, Housley said, to experience what it’s like to breathe in the chemical, with Grand Fire and EMT emergency responders at-the-ready. Some Grand County EMTs wore hazmat suits and participated in the exercise, entering the building and later removing masks. “There was a lot of crying and tearing, and snot running out of faces,” said Jeremy Utter, Office of Emergency Management special projects coordinator, describing what it was like to breathe in the chemical used in extreme cases to force criminals out of buildings.Officers and emergency responders were ushered into decontamination tents that had pressurized water supplied by Grand Fire trucks.Through a Homeland Security Grant, Emergency Management acquired the tents two years ago. The large emergency tents have the ability to “decontaminate” up to 40 to 60 people an hour. The portable shower facilities could be dispatched in situations like officers entering a meth lab unknowingly, or a traffic accident involving a vehicle transporting a hazardous material, Utter said.A captain of Grand County EMS, Don Koogle, along with Utter, are both members of Denver Federal Terrorism Response Teams and witnessed the use of the tents in the Katrina humanitarian mission. Other than in-house instruction about the decon tents, last week’s unified operation was the first time Grand County’s Emergency Management erected the tents out in the field. “It’s practice in a non-stressful environment so when we’re put in a stressful scenario, it’s seamless,” Utter said.”It was the first time other agencies had seen the equipment,” said EMS Captain Nowell Curran. “Now they know who to call for that resource.” – Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail email@example.com.