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Chemical spill drill hones response

chem

David Blatchley/contributing photographer
The Cortland Hazardous Materials Response Team heads to a “large chemical spill” Saturday during a simulation at the former Buckbee-Mears factory on Kellogg Road. The workers’ air bottles limited the amount of time they could spend at the site before leaving to undergo a decontamination process. They could not remove their breathing apparatus until decontamination was completed.

By COREY PRESTON
Staff Reporter

There was undoubtedly a lot of pressure on the Cortland firefighters charged with closing the leak of “hazardous materials” Saturday at the old Buckbee-Mears factory on Kellogg Road during a drill that simulated a large chemical spill.
Every move they made was monitored by their superiors, by Local Emergency Planning Committee officials and by members of the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control.
Still, the pressure was nothing compared to how it would have been had it been the real thing, the liquid streaming out of a pipe outside the building anything other than water.
“The chemical they’re supposedly dealing with is pretty powerful,” LEPC Chairman Fred Bachner said of the chemical officials were pretending to contain, dichlorodimethylsilane. “With the rain we’re getting right now, the way it reacts with water, it would kill everybody pretty quickly.”
Fortunately, the chemical is not used or stored anywhere in Cortland, said Bachner, who helped design Saturday’s drill.
“We needed something that would meet the conditions needed for the drill, something that would require them to evacuate Northwoods (nursing facility) and set up a decontamination unit at the hospital,” he said. “This is what we came up with.”
The drill brought together more than 200 people from 14 different agencies, Bachner said. The LEPC tries to conduct a drill every year, but it has been several years since it has done one to the scale of Saturday’s, said Mary Jane Uttech, deputy director of the Cortland  County Health Department.
The County Health Department, Cortland Regional Medical Center, Northwoods Nursing Home and the Red Cross all fulfilled emergency planning requirements with the drill, he said, while the fire department and local law enforcement agencies used it as an opportunity to train.
The roughly 20 evaluators on hand at the various sites will meet with all of the involved agencies Wednesday to discuss what went well and what didn’t, Bachner said.
The drill began with a 911 call at 9 a.m. from community roll players who said that they’d been part of a clean-up crew at the Buckbee-Mears building when a pipe ruptured, spilling dichlorodimethylsilane and contaminating the entire eight-member crew, Bachner said.
The call and the arrival of mock victims prompted a lockdown at Cortland Regional Medical Center, and the quick set up of a decontamination unit outside of the hospital’s emergency room.
The fire department was on the scene at Buckbee-Mears by 9:10 a.m., Cortland police, State Police and the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department began arriving by 9:20 a.m.
By 9:30 a.m. the city Fire Department’s Hazardous Materials Response Team had arrived.
While the hazmat team evaluated how best to approach the spill, police began evacuations of role-players from the surrounding Dawn, Brook and Woodcrest drives to Red Cross and Cortland County Health Department shelters at the former armory on Wheeler Avenue.
Northwoods Nursing Home, near the Buckbee-Mears building on Kellogg Road, began to evacuate role-players standing in for its residents.
With 150 residents with varying needs, and without the assistance of TLC Emergency Medical Services ambulances, which had to bow out of the exercise because of other engagements, the Northwoods drill was not an exact replication of an emergency situation, said Tim Gordon, director of social services at Northwoods, but it was a good opportunity to go through the mechanisms of evacuating residents.
“It’s hard to estimate how long it would actually take to evacuate, but I think we did well getting everyone to the holding area and getting each patient ready for transport,” Gordon said.
Loretta Eckel, one of a handful of role players sitting in for Northwoods residents, said she was impressed by the emergency response.
“We were just in the hallway waiting, and all of the sudden the alarm went off and they got us down here really quick,” said Eckel, who was waiting to be transported from the holding area to the gym at the County Office Building on Central Avenue.
County Administrator Scott Schrader, who was manning the county’s Emergency Operations Center at the Public Safety Building on Greenbush Street.
“The drill is controlled, so we don’t necessarily have things happen that are unexpected,” Schrader said. “What it does is allow us to work on scenarios that could potentially happen.”
For the fire department, that meant taking the spill at the Buckbee Mears building seriously, even though it was just water. Two firefighters in full hazmat suits did not enter the spill area until 10:50 a.m., almost two hours after the spill occurred, but this was because the department had to determine the nature of the spill and ensure that an extensive decontamination system was in place.
“They can’t move in until the decontamination is set up,” said Brian Girard of the Office of Fire Prevention and Control, who was on hand as an evaluator for the drill. “If this were an actual incident, there would be more fire departments helping out and they’d be ready a lot faster.”
Once the firefighters made it to the site, they only had about 20 minutes to work on a number of leaks. When their oxygen got low, the team had to go through the decontamination system and a medical examination, and were immediately replaced by another team of two. The numerous evaluators on hand did their best to refrain from offering guidance to those going through the drill, but some instruction was inevitable.
“Think about what you’re going to need to take out and what the next team needs to bring in,” Assistant Chief Charlie Sherman told the first team, made up of firefighters Nate Krause and Derek Reynolds.
The fire department controlled the leak by 12:20 p.m.
“All in all, things went very well, the fire department handled the situation as they should have and there was good cooperation by everyone involved,” Bachner said.

 

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Senior Games start Tuesday

From staff reports
CORTLAND — The 24th annual Empire State Senior Games, which start Tuesday and run through Sunday at locations in and around the city, are expected to draw about 2,000 participants, plus families and friends.
SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum said this is the third year he has welcomed the senior games and its participants. Most of the games are held on the SUNY Cortland campus.
He said participants often watch fellow athletes when not competing and take time “to go exploring along Main Street.”
The Memorial Library on campus is also a draw. “It’s nice to have the Bookmark Café in (the library),” he said.
Bitterbaum said he likes to hear life stories of the athletes.
Garry VanGorder, executive director of the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce, said he and Mayor Tom Gallagher would participate in the Thursday evening “opening” ceremony and would encourage the senior athletes to check out the community.
“I’m sure individual businesses will do what they can,” he added. VanGorder said part of the problem with attracting the seniors to the surrounding community is that many stay on and eat on campus.

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Water, water everywere at 15th anual Cortland Waterfest

By COREY PRESTON
Staff Reporter

Although rain may have put a slight damper on attendance, it didn’t stop those who did turn out for Saturday’s 15th Annual Waterfest at the city Waterworks from having a good time.
“This is such a wonderful thing, it teaches children to respect water and the uses of water, and it’s such a wonderful entertainment for them,” said Polly Niese, a retired Homer schoolteacher who has volunteered at the Waterfest for the past 10 years.
The festival, which included a mix of educational and entertaining activities for people of all ages, drew Missy Pallone and her children Harold, 7, Ben, 6, and Luke, 3, for the second straight year.
“Of course with the rain we weren’t sure, but it’s let up and it’s really been fun,” said Pallone, a Cortland resident.
Harold, Ben and Luke took turns manning a powerful fire hose, racing to see who could knock down an orange construction cone first.
“It’s kind of hard,” Harold said of wielding the hose, which was attached to a 1924 American LaFrance antique fire truck owned by the city fire department.
Beyond the hose activity, the festival featured rubber duck races, in which children could drop their ducks, lovingly named “3” or “7,” at one end of a culvert and cheer them on as they raced to the other end.
The festival also featured miniature golf, a coloring contest and fun with bubbles.

 

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