HAZMAT exercise tests response to simulated fuel-tank collapse

Emergency personnel, base agencies rally to contain ‘spill’

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base personnel tested their emergency-response procedures during a simulated hazardous-materials exercise.

Base firefighters, Security Forces and other base agencies responded to the “collapse” of a jet-fuel tank and release of its contents outside a containment dike. The drill took place May 19.

“A HAZMAT incident has a multifaceted response,” said David Filipkowski, 88th Air Base Wing exercise planner. “While the focus of an event such as this is to contain its obvious effects, such as contamination, it’s also important to ensure any victims are immediately taken care of and evacuated, while others are kept out of harm’s way.”

During the scenario, jet-fuel tanks began to leak and then buckle, spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of the tank farm’s liquid along Skeel Avenue. The sudden rush of fuel caused one dike to fail and release more outside the containment area.

As some crews worked to plug the breach, others tended to “victims” affected by fumes. And others took steps to evacuate surrounding facilities and cordon off the area.

Base firefighters employed decontamination procedures on “patients” in preparation for medical treatment and transport for follow-on care.

While that was happening, the Emergency Operations Center convened to help facilitate the ongoing response and provide the on-scene commander with any resources needed.

As often happens during real-world and exercise events, units across the installation stood up their group and unit control centers, base officials said. Among many responsibilities, GCCs and UCCs are focal points for personnel accountability and disseminating event-specific information to unit members during a crisis.

In addition to on-scene actions, the installation’s Public Affairs Office fielded queries from media outlets seeking more information on the “fuel spill,” its magnitude and possible contamination to surrounding communities.

The PAO spokesperson answered questions during a mock press conference at the Hope Hotel, where Wright-Patterson AFB Fire Department Assistant Chief Jeffrey Kitzmiller faced “reporters” with cameras and microphones.

A crisis or emergency can occur anytime, so base personnel must be prepared to take prudent steps and effectively handle response measures on multiple fronts, exercise planners said.

“You can be certain that the news media will be highly interested in an event like this,” said Chris Decker, a Public Affairs representative and 88 ABW inspection team member. “This gave us a chance to learn lessons, hone skills and be better prepared.”

Back on the tank farm, the final element of the exercise unfolded with activities shifting into recovery mode as base organizations with the needed expertise worked to “clean up” the spill. While also simulated, it served to give all involved a sense of the scope of the aftermath of such an event.

Throughout the exercise, other wing inspection team members evaluated their organizations on response actions.

“Exercises like these are vital for first responders and base leaders to measure their preparedness and improve their processes,” Filipkowski said. “They help ensure we stand ready if a real-world event were to happen.”

About the Author