When Disaster Strikes

Emergency drill scheduled for Friday


It's a disaster waiting to happen.


Friday morning, Rim country firefighters, law enforcement officers and medical emergency crews will participate in the town's first disaster drill --something required by federal law, according to Payson Fire Chief John Ross.

"I know the hospital has done these in the past, but to my knowledge, this is the first time the town has tested its emergency preparedness plan," Ross said. "We want to be ready for any kind of disaster, especially with Y2K right around the corner."

The disaster begins with the following scenario:

Two workers are repairing a leak on the side of an ammonia tank at the Northern Gila County Sanitary District. While one of the workers is adjusting a bolt on the side of the tank, it breaks, and liquid ammonia begins squirting out. The other worker flees in panic.

A driver backing up a sludge truck sees the fleeing worker and accidentally hits the gas pedal instead of the brake. The trucker, who is smoking, backs into a gas meter and his cigarette ignites the propane. The fire spreads, causing a small-scale wildland fire, threatening nearby neighborhoods.

"This scenario, although extremely farfetched, allows those participating the opportunity to engage and mitigate several different emergencies at once," Ross said. Participating agencies include the Forest Service, area fire departments, Canyon State Ambulance, the Department of Public Safety's haz-mat team, law enforcement agencies, several town departments, the Red Cross, Gila County Emergency Services, amateur radio operators, utility companies and the school district.

Ross said the drill is expected to last until 11 a.m. -- although he points out that even mock disasters are largely unpredictable. Throughout the morning, residents may see more ambulances and emergency vehicles on the road, and for those who listen to police scanners, there will be increased radio traffic.

"But this is only an exercise," Ross said.

Once the exercise wraps up, participating agencies will gather to critique their work. Watch next Tuesday's Roundup to find out how well they did.

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