MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, GA -- Sirens blared as an entourage of ambulances and fire engines rushed through East Albany streets Aug. 22. They were headed for the Albany Civic Center where a cylinder of chlorine fell off of a 1-ton truck and ruptured, injuring a large group of people.
The crowd was exiting the civic center after an evening concert when it happened, and more than 30 people were injured -- some severely.
At least, that's the scenario local hospital officials gave a group of volunteers who acted as the victims for the emergency response personnel tested during the drills. The drills were designed to test Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital's and HCA Palmyra Medical Centers' ability to handle mass casualties in a short period of time.
"This is one of the biggest drills we've ever had," said Phoebe Emergency Room Director, Todd Braswell.
Though the event was not preparation directly for a terrorist attack, Braswell did say drills of this nature would aid in any instance that may occur.
"Each ER has its specialty drills set up, in case of fire, flood, chemicals and things like that," said Braswell. "But the basis of each plan is almost the same. So if we can deal with one, we can pretty much deal with any other.
"I am more worried about an accident such as this happening than a terrorist attack. Albany isn't a very big terrorist target. But because we have the Marine Corps Base and MERCK [Chemical] and several other large businesses here , its is a very real possibility," he said.
An MCLB Albany Marine was among the volunteers who ranged from high school students to senior citizens. Lance Cpl. Walter Balladares, of the Travel Section here, said he thought the drill would be a great opportunity to make new friends.
The volunteers-turned-actors were each given a card to place around their neck that designated the injuries of each victim. Upon arrival, the emergency response personnel approached the victims and determined what to do with them after they read the diagnosis on the card. A few of the victims had yellow caution ribbon tied around their arms or legs to let EMS workers know that they needed to be decontaminated from the simulated spill.
Balladares played the part of a 30-year-old who was short of breath and had irritated skin as a result of the simulated chlorine spill.
According to Balladares, volunteering was a good chance for him do something different on a Thursday night.
"I met some interesting people already," Balladares said at the beginning of the night. "What else is there to do on a Thursday night," he asked. "You might as well volunteer and give something back to the community."
Dan Gillum, director of Installations and Logistics here, was also on hand to help oversee the event.
According to Gillum, the base has aided the hospitals in these drills for the past several years.
"It's always good to know that if anything happened on base, the community hospitals would be able to handle any problem," said Gillum.
Volunteers waited in the parking lot, surrounded by clipboard-toting observers, for EMS personnel to arrive.
The Albany Police Department cleared a street, while the fire department prepared an area for 'decontaminating' the victims. The fire department set up what looked like curtains between two fire trucks, creating a 'shower area' in which victims were washed down. This was done to get any chemicals off of their skin and to stop any contaminated areas from spreading.
When all was said and done, the victims were loaded into vehicles and taken to the hospitals. Depending on the severity of their condition, some drove their vehicles, some rode in the ambulances, and some were even loaded into a church van.
After they reached the hospitals, doctors simulated treating them. The volunteers were then taken back to the Civic Center and released.
"It takes a lot of time, coordination and effort to hold a drill like this," said Gillum, "I sure do appreciate the volunteers coming out to put this on and help determine how capable we are of handling an instance like this."