Highland prepares for hazardous materials situations

Published 7:24 pm Friday, May 18, 2007

Highland Community Hospital staff need to be prepared in case of a hazardous substance spill, so hospital employees conducted a Hazardous Materials Incident Drill.

The Thursday morning drill called employees out to a mock incident, prompting them to dress in protective gear called Powered Air Purifying Respirator suits. Once dressed, they conducted a drill of what would happen if a hazardous materials situation were to occur.

Valspar and the Picayune Fire Department sent employees out to observe the drill. Valspar Heath Safety and Environmental Manager Gerald Olivier said while Valspar mostly deals with automotive paint, employees could be affected by chemical spills, chemical burns or solvent spills. However, the likelihood of an incident is slim, he said.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“If we were to have an incident over there, it would probably be from a solvent spill,” Olivier said.

Fire Chief Keith Brown said he had some of his men out at the drill to observe, not participate. The hospital conducted the drill on its own to see what issues would need to be worked out and what procedures they have perfected. If there was a major hazardous materials event, most trained emergency personnel would be busy elsewhere in the community, so hospital staff need to be prepared until emergency personnel can become available. Currently the Fire Department has about 20 fire fighters trained to handle hazardous materials situations. Four are trained to the chemical level, which is the highest training a Hazmat Technician can receive, Brown said.

So far the hospital has put a tremendous effort into their training, he said.

“Highland has been very progressive and proactive in their training,” Brown said.

Pam O’Flynn, director of Radiology, Cardiology and Safety for the hospital, said this was the hospital’s fourth or fifth drill in as many years. The hospital has a drill at least once a year combined with quarterly training. Additional training is conducted each time there is an update to the procedure, she said.

“We want to try our best to be prepared for any thing that comes in,” O’Flynn said.

During the drill team members would pick up stretchers with a note attached describing problems from which the mock patients were suffering. The mock patient was then taken to the decontamination tent to be showered and scrubbed. O’Flynn said that had this situation been real, water captured during the cleansing in the tent would have been collected and treated by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, because it would have contained hazardous chemicals.

Currently the hospital is using a make shift version of a decontamination tent. Plans are in the making to install a more sophisticated system in the hospital’s new location when it is built, O’Flynn said. Blow up tents are available, but costly, but there is a chance a new tent will be secured for the current location, she said.

Brown said during the drill the fire fighters in attendance noticed a couple of things that could use some work. He said the department plans to help hospital iron out those issues. A problem the hospital has with training is that when they get a team trained and team members leave for another job, then the whole team could be affected, O’Flynn said.