Simulated chemical spill went off without a hitch

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

As part of their preparation for chemical spills or any other industrial-related accident that may occur in industry rich South Texas, CHRISTUS Spohn hospitals across the area participated in a mock drill Tuesday morning.

For the situation at CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Alice, the scenario was a chemical spill at Halliburton, which led to eight victims.

All available hospital staff was involved in the drill, along with Guardian EMS, who transported the victims and the Alice Fire Department.

The Hospital Emergency Incident Command Center was put into place, and run by Medical Lab Director Jason Pate, Finance Director Michael Guajardo and Hospital Director Mark Casanova.

Observers from the Texas Department of Health were on hand to critique the drill and look for what was done correctly and what areas may need work.

A complete report of the drill will be submitted to the Coastal Bend Regional Advisory Council within a few days.

Students with the Alice High School theatre class participated as victims of the spill and portrayed a variety of health-related problems, such as smoke inhalation, burns, abrasions and more. As part of the drill, one victim was declared fatal at the scene, while another passed away enroute to the hospital.

Once transported by Guardian EMS to the hospital, the victims were sent to a preliminary tent, where hospital staff removed clothing that may contain chemicals from the spill. The victims were triaged by EMS on the way to the hospital. From that point, the victims were carried to a secondary tent, where they were scrubbed to remove any remaining chemicals on their body.

During this time, staff members were wearing white decontamination suits to protect themselves from possible exposure to hazardous chemicals.

After thorough washing, the patients were held outside and their injuries assessed before they make their way into the hospital.

Pate said the incident command center was up and running in less than 15 minutes, and the hospital was prepared with their tents in place, ready to receive victims, less than half an hour from the initial call, which is a requirement by the state. Two teams of medical staffers were ready to go, with one on standby, which is also a requirement of the exercise.

"We didn't see any big issues today," Pate said. "We did excellent. We had the tents up in a little over 10 minutes, our personnel had their de-con outfits and were dressed properly, and the command center was up and running in time. Everything was in order today."