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LOUDONVILLE -- A multi-agency public safety simulation ran up against the real world Wednesday night.
A joint exercise between the Ashland and Holmes County Emergency Management Agencies had been in the works for months to test the counties' responses to a hazardous material release. The situation dealt with a release of anhydrous ammonia, from a Centerra Co-op tank. Centerra donated their workspace for the exercise.
The first hurdle was to determine where the simulated 911 call would go -- depending on where a cellphone call is made in the Loudonville area, it can go to the Holmes County Dispatch or Ashland County Dispatch. This time, cell towers directed the call to Holmes County.
Shortly after and outside of the exercise, a fire broke out and destroyed a home and business in Killbuck, busying dispatchers and eventually requiring Holmes County EMA director Gary Mellor to leave to monitor the situation.
Back at Centerra, the exercise was a success, Ashland EMA director Mark Rafeld said. Amateur radio operators began to fill in the gaps of dispatchers, keeping fire departments, hospitals and directors in touch with each other.
"That's a typical day sometimes, dispatchers can get two or three calls at one time," Rafeld said. "That's something that can be a challenge each time."
Firefighters responded to the scene to hose down the gas, which would prevent it from spreading any further, and a mock shelter was established by the Red Cross, just as it would if such a situation were to actually occur.
State EMA evaluators ultimately called the exercise a success.
Numerous agencies were involved in the event, including Centerra Co-op, Ashland County EMA and Holmes County EMA, Loudonville Fire Department, Ashland Fire Department, the Ashland and Holmes counties sheriff's offices, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Western-Holmes Fire Department and Hazardous Material Response Unit and Loudonville Police Department.
"It was good we did (an exercise) down here because we had multiple counties and agencies involved," Rafeld said.
After the roughly hour-and-a-half exercise, and during a debriefing with every agency involved, state deputy EMA director Russell Decker stressed the need to adapt to ever-changing situations, just as the agencies did during the exercise and in response to the real-world issues happening at same time.
"Disasters don't need jurisdictional boundaries," Decker said, noting that there are 800 hazardous material situations in Ohio per year.
"I feel confident folks in this area will be safe."
Dylan Sams can be reached at 419-281-0581, ext. 240, and email@example.com.