Oregon Emergency Response drill helps Seaside agencies prepare for the worstSEASIDE - Ambulances sped through the streets to crowd around the Seaside Civic and Convention Center, where 30 high-school students lay in various positions of agony in the white powder of a hazardous waste explosion.
Firemen and women in full gear and with oxygen breathers advanced toward the victims to lift them from the debris, check them over and decontaminate them.
But don't worry, it was just a drill.
LAUREL EDDY - The Daily Astorian
Victim Rianna Norman reclines patiently on her body board as an emergency worker adjusts her head brace. Hazardous powder from the explosion still covers her - it's actually laundry detergent."The kids have fun and we learn something," said Medix Ambulance employee Duane Mullins of the exercise Monday afternoon.
Mullins has completed about 30 of these drills, before and after the Sept.11, 2001 attacks, when the focus shifted from major traffic accidents to bioterrorism and radiation leaks. He watched Monday as a hazmat, or hazardous materials, team worked with police and the fire department to treat victims. This was to keep a hospital or any bystanders from being infected by the toxins, which were represented by white laundry detergent.
Firefighters sent the walking wounded and those who were unscathed to one side of the main room in the convention center while they dealt with the most serious cases. Guarded by one firefighter, the students worked to play the roles that got them out of school, shouting "It's radioactive, are we going to die?" and "I don't want to die!" as Seaside Fire Marshal Chris Dugan tried to calm them.
As she is decontaminated, Leesa Wucherpfennig appears to be regretting volunteering to be a "victim" - though it did get her out of school for the afternoon.
LAUREL EDDY - The Daily Astorian"I need you to stay right here," he told the students. "This is the most important thing, that you stay right here and stay calm."
Members of different agencies occasionally got in each other's way or were not sure what to do next. Emergency workers made comments such as "Where are we going with this guy?" or "Where's my ambulance?"
But Oregon Emergency Response Program Manager Dan Loomis said the emergency teams did very well. Eight people down and two dead are a lot for a small town to handle, he said.
"I saw their eyes, the first responders," Loomis said. "They went 'Boing!' then settled down and did their job."
While somewhat awed by the response teams, the students enjoyed the exercise, saying it was fun to be able to sit around and talk instead of being in school. Those designated to be heavily injured or dead patiently endured being hauled around, strapped to body boards and taken to Providence Hospital or to Astoria.
Fire crews, hazmat teams and police responded to the mock emergency at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center, set up a decontamination chamber, and proceeded to get every victim "naked and wet."
LAUREL EDDY - The Daily AstorianBut in one respect, they were the lucky ones.
Others had to take off their clothes and be hosed down with cold water to remove the "hazardous" material. Girls wore swimsuits under their clothing, boys kept their boxers on, and everyone removed their shoes so they wouldn't get soaked, but it still looked cold. Very cold.
The students, undaunted, exchanged such helpful tips as "Where's the dead people?" and "You're dead, lay down!"