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Training session to test agency responses

WORTHINGTON — Lyon and Nobles counties are sponsoring a full-scale drill at 10 a.m. Sunday at the Nobles County Fairgrounds.

Operation Swift Response is testing response teams on prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery.

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“I originally went to a hazmat training drill in Marshall and spoke with Rob Yant, who is the Director of Public Safety for the Marshall Police Department, and talked about setting up a drill like this for Worthington,” said Worthington Fire Chief Rick vonHoldt. “They had brought in the Southwest Minnesota CAT (Chemical Assessment Team) for their drill, and we wanted to get them involved with ours, too.”

The drill involves a specific scenario that will test response units on decision-making, coordination and integration with other organizations during a hazardous materials scenario.

“Mike Smith of Smith Trucking graciously is letting us use one of his trucks for the drill,” said vonHoldt.

The scenario involves local police and fire units responding to a parked semi-truck at the fairgrounds in Worthington to investigate a “slumper” behind the wheel of the truck. Upon arrival of the first responders, they discover a placard that reads “Caution:HazMAT” taped to the window of the cab. The first responders call the State Duty Officer, and the SW Minnesota CAT team is dispatched to the scene. The team soon realizes that a chemical suicide has taken place.

“We also chose to add to the scenario that the driver may have been distributing contaminated meat and that the driver has already dropped off meat to various locations before the suicide. This triggers the 55th Civil Support Team of the National Guard to examine the cargo to see if it had been tampered with,” said vonHoldt. “The scenario makes sure that every participating agency is dispatched to the scene.”

This drill will test the communication between all of the involved agencies. Evaluators from the FBI and Homeland Security will be there to give feedback to all units after the drill.

“We’re able to look at all of the hazardous aspects of this drill by working with all of the different agencies,” said vonHoldt. “This whole thing really blossomed just starting with local agencies, and now we have all the way up to federal agencies.”

Each of the local departments has its own separate focus during the drill, as well as coming together and working as a team to handle the situation in the most effective way.

“From a fire department standpoint, it’s about accountability,” said vonHoldt. “We’re documenting people that are going to be there and responding the quickest to the scene as we can.”

Vonholdt also explained one of the focuses for the ambulance and responder team.

“EMS is not only there to assess the truck driver, but also to take care of us. If someone was ‘contaminated,’ there are people there to help us in a decontamination situation.”

Worthington Police Department Sgt. Brett Wiltrout explained his department’s goal in the drill.

“It’s about scene security, because this is technically treated as a crime scene, too,” said Wiltrout. “We want to make sure that the scene does not get contaminated and that the evidence is handled properly.”

This type of full-scale drill is a first for the WPD, and it’s been five years since the fire department was involved in a drill this large.

“We’re all really excited about this drill,” said Wiltrout. “You can read this type of thing in a book over and over, but until you actually go through the motions, do you really understand and know what to do in these kinds of situations?”

The police department may also block off Stower Drive during the drill, and again wants the public to know it is just a drill.

Erin Trester
Erin Trester is the crime and city reporter for the Daily Globe. She's a native of Lewiston, MN, but moved to Buffalo, NY to attend college and obtained her bachelor's degree in Communications. She started at the Western New York Catholic Newspaper as a reporter in Buffalo, but in October 2013 she returned to her home state to start with the Daily Globe. Most of her spare time is taken up by her 13-year-old thoroughbred named Faith, but some of her other hobbies include reading, fishing and spending time with friends and family. 
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