Reality adds realism to Saturday multi-county disaster drill

2013-09-12T03:30:00Z 2014-09-11T16:59:31Z Reality adds realism to Saturday multi-county disaster drillMilo Dailey Butte County Post staff Rapid City Journal
September 12, 2013 3:30 am  • 

When organizers held their meeting for Saturday's Butte and Meade County disaster drill, the major worry was high temperatures for firefighters who would be responding to a mock toxic chemical fire at Dakota Mill and Grain in Belle Fourche.

It turned out that the problem with reality wasn't the heat, as such, it was a real fire west of Belle Fourche that took the Belle Fourche Volunteer Fire Department out of the drill.

But, according to Butte County Emergency Management Director Martha Wierzbicki, that could be exactly the situation encountered by any of the Northern Hills emergency responders. Disasters don't wait until everybody is available.

The Nisland-Arpan and Vale Volunteer Fire Departments were the firefighters involved. Meade County Emergency Management and sheriff's office "responded" to the drill as well.

Wierzbicki said the reason for the drill was to test equipment and emergency plans more than the people themselves.

Hot weather did play a role too.

Timing for the mock disaster was pushed earlier in the day because of high temperatures and concerns for firefighter safety.

Black Hills Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Dan Kuecker was on hand with cold drinks and energy bars for participants on scene as well as to monitor the Northern Hills response in the drill.

Kolstad, regional coordinator for the South Dakota Office of Emergency Management, was on hand for Saturday's disaster drill as well.

Although some of the drill may have been hit by a real fire and high temperatures, Wierzbicki said it fulfilled its purpose.

From the beginning pre-drill meeting through the "hot wash" debriefing afterwards, the training saw 11 agencies will be involved - 12 if one evaluator is counted. That's Lawrence County Emergency Management Director Paul Thomson.

Other agencies include Butte and Meade County Emergency Management. Fire departments include Belle Fourche, Newell, Nisland and Vale. Belle Fourche police and sheriff's departments from Meade and Butte County are involved. Butte County Ambulance services from Belle Fourche and Newell also are in the exercise.

Most Belle Fourche people didn't know an exercise was under way because traffic on U.S. Highway 85 needed to have its high mid-day traffic volumes continue as much as possible.

Wierzbicki said the scenario for the exercise is a fire discovered in the Dakota Mill office by employees closing for the day. One of the two collapses after discovering smoke and flames in several areas where herbicides and pesticides are stored. The other calls 911, but can't get to the other individual and has trouble breathing.

The community already has plans in case one or more of the Northern Hills fire departments are at one incident when another hits the area, Wierzbicki said. That need did play a role in the initial planning for the drill.

Copyright 2015 Rapid City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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