With a minor explosion and terrified screams, a multi-agency hazardous materials spill drill began the morning of Thursday, April 9, at Pomona College’s Seaver Science Building in Claremont.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department and its Health Hazardous Materials Division, Upland and Montclair fire departments, Claremont Colleges Campus Safety and Claremont Police Department took part in the scenario, which involved a group of students and staff in one of the lab classes. There was a minor explosion, which spilled chemicals and burned victims. The building was evacuated, and college staff accounted for all the evacuees.
The exercise was designed to share and execute current tactics in dealing with a chemical spill, as well as extricating and treating injured students and college staff, while improving communication efforts across responding agencies under a unified command.
Battalion Chief John Lenihan emphasized the pivotal need for firefighters and law enforcement agents to work side by side during a prolonged rescue of injured civilians.
“Communication is where lessons are learned—how we are communicating with each other; how we are communicating with each agency; and how we communicate with the public that we serve,” Lenihan said.
Another important aspect of the drill was to improve teamwork with firefighters, who may not receive enough training for these events.
“We are a team and we often don’t get that opportunity to train together as a team,” said hazmat coordinator and Fire Captain Tony Duran of the Homeland Security Section. “In order for us to be successful, we have to train together.
“The nearest LACoFD hazmat unit is stationed in the City of Industry … a good 45 minutes away,” Duran said. “The cities of Upland, Montclair and Rancho Cucamonga share resources on their West Valley Hazardous Materials Team, (so) they can sometimes respond to the Claremont area a lot sooner.”
Photo gallery: Department firefighters work with members of other public safety agencies during a hazmat drill at Pomona College. Photos by Alicia Mejia.