Manassas Journal Messenger | Firefighters train for the worst

Testing hazardous materials responses during a drill at Potomac Hospital on Thursday enabled county officials to assess their ability to decontaminate people infected during a calamity.

The drill required Prince William County fire and hospital workers to operate equipment designed to clean people exposed to chemical or biological agents. In such a scenario, anyone exposed must undergo cleansing before receiving medical treatment.

The equipment, paid for with U.S. Department of Justice grants, will enable Prince William County to play a role in responding to any regional incident involving dangerous chemicals, including potential terrorist attacks, a hospital spokeswoman said.

It also puts the county on the same level with its regional counterparts, who are all buying decontamination equipment and training with it.

The drill took place at the front entrance of the hospital’s emergency room. Firefighters and nurses were told that the people needing decontamination were involved in some type of explosion on Interstate 95.

Although the initial disaster was never simulated, firefighters and hospital personnel were told that emergency responders had noticed something unusual at the “scene,” prompting the roll out of the protective equipment.

Marines from Quantico stood in as victims. Donning clean suits, they waited in line to enter the tent, which is equipped with a conveyor belt, hose system and diesel-fuel powered water pump.

When it was their turn to go into the tent, each Marine’s suit was cut off and they were hosed down completely.

Officials used water during the drill; in real life soap would be added and the victims would be nude.

After they were washed, each person came out the other side of the tent, where nurses in protective suits prepared to treat them.

Hospital officials stopped some “victims” from entering the hospital without going through the decontamination process. A fire official said some people drive to the hospital after a such an incident.

Staff writer Daniel Drew can be reached at (703) 878-8065.

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