WASHINGTON (AP) - Emergency personnel in the nation's capital
tested their ability to respond to a mass casualty incident,
participating Thursday in a drill based on a poisonous gas
The exercise was built around a group of five mock protesters
who broke into an unused section of the St. Elizabeth's hospital.
Drill participants were told they had dumped a bag of sodium
cyanide near the spilled contents of a 55 gallon drum of
hydrochloric acid.
The chemicals can combine to produce the toxic gas sodium
cyanide, which is used in gas chamber executions, said Alan Etter,
spokesman for the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical
Services Dept.
The drill, dubbed Operation Uphill, involved about 50
firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics as well
as personnel from the D.C. Emergency Management Agency. About two
dozen firefighters and emergency medical technicians from the U.S.
Marine Corps also took part.
"This is an opportunity for our operations people to observe
how these systems work together," Etter said as hazardous
materials specialists, rescue crews and medical personnel responded
to the mock scenario.
The old steamworks in the hospital served as the ACME Chemical
plant, a mock hazardous materials processing facility.
Firefighter-paramedics who responded to a local medical
emergency call discovered dozens of mock patients exhibiting
symptoms of respiratory distress. Some also displayed cuts and
other traumatic injuries.
As additional equipment arrived, a decontamination area was
established upwind and uphill from the incident site. Ambulances
and other emergency vehicles staged in a safe area a short distance
"The contaminated area is the hot zone, you want to provide
first aid and assessment in a warm zone, and then transport the
seriously injured to hospitals," said Etter.
As the scenario continued, Etter reported a dozen fatalities
within the first hour. The victims were primarily civilian clad
Marines from the nearby Washington Navy Yard.
The district has about 400 EMS providers among its 1,350
firefighters. Of that number, 60 are rapid responder paramedics.
About 28 of them have now completed hazardous materials response
training considered essential for such operations.
"We're training more personnel constantly," Etter said, noting
that D.C. firefighters and EMT's took part in a large exercise at
the Pentagon last month.
On the Net:
D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department:
D.C. Emergency Management Agency: http://dcema.dc.gov/main.shtm

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)