Manassas Journal Messenger | Crews train for disaster at Osbourn

At 1:05 p.m. on Thursday, Osbourn High School’s classrooms began “lock down,” with students and teachers locked in classrooms, as senior Kari Bartko dropped to the floor. Fire and Rescue teams from Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park rushed in to Bartko’s Advanced Placement Environmental Science classroom.

But it was just an exercise.

The three jurisdictions sought the help of the high school’s science students for their hazardous materials simulation exercise. Bartko pretended she had been hurt by a chemical explosion, while 35 of her classmates simulated minor afflictions.

The event was organized by Manassas Safety Manager Richard Hill. Hill knew Bartko through her work on the school newspaper, and he asked her and other students to volunteer.

Bartko was instructed to just lay still on the ground as rescue workers, dressed in brightly colored astronaut-like suits, entered the room.

“It was weird at first, seeing all those guys come in their blue and green suits,” Bartko said. “They’re like these big monsters. It was hard not to laugh, but then I just closed my eyes.”

The rescue workers asked Bartko if she knew what type of chemical she had been working with, if anything hurt her and if she had trouble breathing, as they would in a real explosion.

They then placed Bartko on a plastic stretcher and carried her outside to the decontamination tent. Inside the tent, they turned on the sprinklers and meticulously washed her with soap to remove all chemicals.

Her classmates were led outside by a “control team” and filed into a line near the tent, according to Manassas firefighter Rob Swift, who said it was important to make sure no students wandered away.

“We went in and corralled them up and brought them out,” Swift said.

They were then divided by sex, given soap and a towel, and instructed to wash carefully.

Junior Emily Grimm said other than the lure of missing classes, she participated because “It seemed really cool and a lot of fun.”

Some students were scanned with a black light to ensure they had washed all chemicals off their exposed skin. Brian O’Hanlon stood outside the school in his complementary, disposable, blue robe and sandals, waiting to be examined.

“It sounded like a neat idea, and I heard it was the first time in the (Washington) D.C. area they did this,” said O’Hanlon, who also participated in a tornado drill four years ago near the Manassas Regional Airport.

Senior Sarah Klotz said she felt better knowing what would happen if a real chemical emergency occurred.

And the rescue workers got a chance to work out any kinks in their system, as well as collaborate with other squads.

“I think it was an excellent opportunity to work with our two sister jurisdictions in a real life scenario, to practice some advanced skills that we don’t use every day,” said Manassas Park paramedic and firefighter Chris Suprun.

Prince William County firefighter Kyle Ghear said they realized some problem areas in the setup process, which he said was the most difficult part, but not really part of the exercise.

“But once the drill got going it went pretty well,” Ghear said. “It was good practice finding out what you need to work on makes it better for next time.”

Staff writer Sari Krieger can be reached at (703) 369-6751

Similar Posts