Training for the worst: Crews respond to mock disaster at water treatment plant - September 14, 2017

Courtesy of NWI Times

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GARY — It was the worst-case scenario: A tank of chlorine rolled off the back of a delivery truck and leaked more than 2,000 pounds of deadly chlorine gas in 10 minutes.

In the mock disaster drill at Indiana American Water’s Borman Park treatment facility, two people were killed and several more were taken to local hospitals.

Gary residents within a 1.3-mile radius of the plant in the 600 block of Madison Street could be affected if such a spill actually occurred, said Craig Murphy, senior specialist for health and safety at Indiana American.

Chlorine “is the No. 1 most dangerous thing that we work with,” Murphy said.

In Thursday’s scenario, a truck driver and Indiana American employee closest to the spill died instantly. The injured who could walk were instructed to make their way to Seventh Avenue and Madison, where ambulances awaited at a staging and decontamination area.

Back at the Borman Park plant, smoke billowed through the parking lot.

If the leak were actually chlorine, it would have a yellow-green color and hang closer to the ground, Murphy said.

Emergency crews and Lake County coroner’s staff waited at the staging area for an all-clear from hazmat teams before making their way onto the facility property to rescue any remaining injured and to remove the two victims’ bodies.

“Even though there’s victims in there, they have to wait until they can safely get responders in there,” said Bethany Hand, of EPA contractor Tetra Tech.

At another Indiana American facility in Gary, designated as an emergency response center because of its location outside if the plume area, employees made notifications to local, state and federal agencies, businesses, schools and hospitals.

Francisco Ochoa, operations supervisor, had to split his attention between the make-believe disaster and the real challenge of a water main break in front of the Red Rooster restaurant in the 1100 block of West 37th Avenue in Hobart.

Indiana American crews were on-site Thursday afternoon in Hobart digging to find the break, but Ochoa anticipated it might not be repaired until midnight.

Ochoa said dealing with the real-world situation and training drill required him to multitask.

“We have to make sure our customers are happy and our employees are safe,” he said. “You can’t sacrifice one for the other.”

The Gary Police and Fire departments participated, along with several other city departments, county departments, businesses, railroads and more. Indiana American’s chemical supplier, Alexander Chemical Corp., also participated.

While local and county emergency workers would be the first to the scene, the chemical supplier has expertise and its own hazmat team to lend assistance, Murphy said. The Lake County and Regional hazmat teams also responded.

After the drill, representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Indiana American Water, Gary, Lake County, Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus, several companies and others planned to discuss the response and what could be improved, officials said.