The Franklin and Hampshire County Regional Emergency Planning Committees (REPCs) participated in a joint hazardous materials response functional exercise at Whately Elementary School on September 17th. Members of several Franklin County fire departments, including Heath, Montague, Sunderland, and Whately, as well as the Whately Police Department, worked side-by-side with the District IV Regional HazMat Team, the Northwest MA Incident Management Team, MA State Police, MA Department of Public Health, and the MA Emergency Management Agency to “respond” to a spill of an unidentified liquid released during a vehicle accident. Participants had to size up the scene, coordinate
and track resources according to their respective regional hazardous materials emergency response plans, establish communications between agencies and communities, protect the crime scene, evaluate evacuation options and methods to notify residents of the evacuation, and determine how to handle the press all while dealing with a constantly changing direction of the wind. Experienced fire chiefs mentored their captains and lieutenants as they navigated not only the hazmat incident, but also being in command of their peers.
The after action report indicates a few areas where the two counties could improve their response capabilities through training opportunities, such as how to use the Emergency Response Guidebook, higher level incident command system and officer training, how to write and follow a communications plan, and how to handle press inquiries. It also lists several strengths, including sizing up a hazmat scene, protecting the integrity of the scene, and leveraging many forms of communication to notify residents of the need to evacuate.
This was the first joint effort between the two REPCs and is likely to inspire future efforts together to get us more bang for our buck.