LAURINBURG — Whether a tanker sprouts a leak in the heart of Laurinburg or railway cargo poses a hazard in Old Hundred, Scotland County is covered in the event of a chemical or other materials hazard.
The Fayetteville Regional Response Team, comprising members of the Fayetteville Fire Department, is one of seven teams throughout the state which responds to emergencies involving hazardous materials. On Thursday, Chief Calvin Bishop explained the response team’s function to members of the Scotland County Local Emergency Planning Committee.
“In your community, you have all kinds of issues that you could deal with: you have a lot of rail traffic through here with CSX … you also have your standard problems with the highway, and you can have fixed facility issues such as your industry that’s here in town,” Bishop said.
“Our role and responsibility is that we’re there to help to try to mitigate the original incident. We’re going to work with you to try to stop the leak, we’re going to work with you to help with evacuation and anything like that.”
North Carolina’s regional response teams were formed in 1995 to expand response capability to hazardous materials incidents in rural areas of the state. The teams are funded by fees associated with Tier II chemical inventory reports filed by industries and other entities that deal with hazardous materials.
“We had to look at additional options if we wanted to keep this availability for the state of North Carolina, and that was an important aspect for a lot of communities — like the Scotlands, the Robesons, the Hokes, places like that — because this would be a very expensive process to try to provide on your own,” said Bishop.
Team response can vary from a phone consultation about a leaking propane tank to the dispatch of multiple regional teams to a disaster like the 2006 explosion of the EQ Industrial Services hazardous waste disposal plant in Apex. Most incidents, Bishop said, call for about a dozen responders.
Calls to the response team, whether by a manufacturing plant or individual, should be made through county emergency services. Information to have on hand when reporting a hazardous materials emergency include whether it is a leak, spill, vapor cloud, or fire, as well as a site plan of the location and safety data sheets for any materials involved.
When responding to an emergency, the team requires a dedicated fire engine to provide water to the decontamination area, as well as staff to assist in non-hazardous functions like decontamination and diversion of a leak or spill. The latter, Bishop said, can be hard to come by as the number of volunteer firefighters dwindles.
The team will also need to know the extent of local medical capabilities and whether or not anyone has been injured, as the nature of injuries can help identify a contaminant. Last week, the team responded to an incident in Robeson County where a handful of people were made ill by an unknown chemical.
“We had four people injured: three deputies and one bystander,” Bishop said. “One of the key things we wanted to know as soon as we got there was what type of injuries were we dealing with.
“When we deal with unknowns, we have to be very cautious at first. The one thing to think about when it comes to hazardous materials, this is not a fast response. This is a slow, measured response so that we can keep all of the folks we need to safe.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.