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Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany

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MCLB Albany prepares for possible Anthrax response

By Lance Cpl. Nicholas Tremblay | | December 20, 2001

Sitting at his desk a base employee opens an envelope he received in the mail. As he tears the envelope open a white powder comes out, getting on his hands and clothes. What should he do"

Maj. Bryan F. Lucas, deputy director of Installations and Logistics, and Dan Gillum, head of the environmental branch here, held an unknown substance decontamination drill in Bldg. 3500 Dec. 6. This was the third anthrax drill since Sept. 11 that has been held to train base emergency response personnel.

During the drill the base employee remained calm and dialed 911 after opening a letter containing a white powdery substance. The number went directly to a base dispatcher. The individual then told the dispatcher his name, location, phone number and that he opened a letter that contained a white powdery substance.

According to Lucas, that was exactly what he needed to do.

"The individuals need to stay calm and realize that once they are exposed to anthrax they need to stay put, so they don't spread it around and contaminate other people," said Lucas. "In the short amount of time it takes the emergency crew to arrive, the employee will not be in any added danger."

The person must also inform those in the immediate area not to leave, said Lucas. The employee should call someone else in the building and instruct them to wait outside to assist the emergency crew in finding the location of the substance.

With sirens screaming and red lights flashing the MCLB Fire Fighters were the first ones to arrive on the scene. The fire chief then established himself as the On Scene Commander.  When the military police arrived, they blocked off the roads leading to the building where the substance was found.

"The emergency response teams did well and got to the scene very quickly," said Lucas. "When they arrived on the scene they made the right decisions and properly evacuated personnel as quickly as possible."

Once on the scene it took two firefighters approximately 20 minutes to put on level 'A' suits. Level 'A' suits are full body suits with gloves attached, a zipper in the back, boots and a face shield. The firefighters wore the suits over their clothes and self-contained protective breathing units. The protective suits are worn because the rescuers were not sure what substance they would find at the scene. The two-man crew went inside wearing air tight suits with their own air supply to protect them from inhaling or touching potentially harmful substances.

While some firefighters suited up, others constructed a decontamination unit. The unit is a small shower used to clean anyone exposed to unknown substances.

Before the first firemen were inside, two other firefighters put on level 'A' suits in case they had to rescue the first two men. The firefighters inside found the person who made the call, checked the area and questioned the individual. They found the substance and made sure the person was not injured. The firefighters then walked the individual outside.

Once outside, everyone who had possibly come into contact with the unknown substance went through the decontamination unit. One at a time they were scrubbed down with soap and water. First they were washed with their clothes on, then stripped down to their undergarments and washed again. If the substance is anthrax it is easily washed away with soap and water, so it cannot be spread to other people.

While the Fire Department was in the building, the MCLB Hazardous Material Team arrived on scene and assumed the role of On Scene Commander. This team is a select group of civilians and Marines from the environmental branch. Since the substance is confirmed as a powder, level 'B' suits were worn. Level 'B' suits are full body suits with boots, gloves, goggles and filter dust/vapor masks.

The hazardous material team entered the building to sample the powder to determine if it was anthrax. This was done using a test strip that will show a positive or negative result.

With the results in hand, the crew, equipped with a hand-held radio, called the OSC outside for further instructions. They carefully placed the envelope and the letter that contained the powder into a bag. They brushed any other visible powder into the bag as well. The bag was then sealed, placed into another bag and taped shut.

The team then left the area, secured it with caution tape, and took the substance outside. Following decontamination of the material, it was handed over to a Criminal Investigation Division agent as evidence. The agent then secured the evidence inside another bag. Some of it will be held as evidence while the rest of it will be brought to a lab where experts will determine what the substance is, said Maj. Vernon L. Graham, provost marshal here.

Lucas was very pleased with the way the emergency response teams handled the drill, he said.

"This was the best drill that we have conducted so far," said Lucas. "The firefighters evacuated the victims quickly and decontaminated them very thoroughly. Everybody worked together and did exactly what they were supposed to do."