By Starrla Cray
DELANO, WRIGHT COUNTY, MN Delano High School’s chemistry lab recently set the stage for emergency training involving multiple local, county, state, and federal agencies, in an exercise called “Operation Tiger Chem.”
“We’ve done this type of drill before, but this was a bigger event,” Delano Fire Chief Bob Van Lith said.
The training, which took place July 18 and 19, was a unique opportunity for fire departments, Wright County law enforcement agencies, medical staff, chemical assessment teams, FBI agents, and other safety professionals to practice their skills.
“It was a very extensive drill,” Delano High School Principal Matt Schoen said.
The mock emergency started at 6 p.m. July 18 with Schoen’s scripted call to 911.
“I reported an explosion in a science classroom, repeating that this was just a drill,” Schoen said.
From there, members of the Delano, Montrose, and Watertown fire departments, as well as area medical crews, responded to the incident.
“The focus for the first evening was saving lives,” Schoen said.
A handful of middle school and high school students from Delano acted as injured “victims.”
The script called for 1.5 hours to handle the situation, but local rescue crews completed the task in about 45 minutes.
“It went better than originally thought,” Schoen said. “The timing was exceptional. The state observers were very, very impressed.”
Van Lith described the scene as a “big puzzle.”
“You start putting things together,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but it’s like any other call. When you get there, you have to figure it out.”
The story for the simulation involved a long-term substitute teacher who had been creating tiny explosions with his chemistry students. In the drill, a huge explosion went off, “killing” the teacher and “injuring” several students.
“We had to figure out what the teacher was doing,” Van Lith said. “You have to work with your victims, but they don’t always know what happened.”
During the drill, the potential for “nerve gas” was discovered, and crews had to evacuate the building and undergo a decontamination process.
The training also involved a thorough investigation of the classroom.
St. Cloud and Hopkins chemical assessment teams, the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the State Fire Marshal, and the Minnesota Joint Analysis Center were among the entities analyzing the explosion aftermath.
A few of the other state and national agencies involved were the Minneapolis Bomb Squad, Minnesota National Guard Joint Operations Center, Minnesota National Guard 55th Civil Support Team, US Department of Homeland Security, US Army North, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The Minnesota National Guard 55th Civil Support Team, which focuses on emergency response involving terroristic attacks and threats, was also part of the training.
The Monticello Fire-Hazmat acted as observers for the operation.
The Department of Public Safety Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) contacted Delano High School to be part of this training exercise a few months ago.
“For me, the amazing part was seeing how these agencies all worked together,” Schoen said. “They are sharp and they stay focused; they follow a very specific chain of command.”
According to Schoen, it is important for leaders of any school, business, or public building to be aware of emergency procedures.
“Hopefully it’ll never, ever be used, but it’s very comforting to know that we do have systems in place, and they do work,” he said. “Rest assured, we have at the local, county, state, and national levels agencies that respond to any type of emergency.”