The mobile decontamination unit, as its name suggests, is a system by which people can be cleansed of potentially dangerous chemicals. In the scenario Wednesday, firefighters prepared to decontaminate someone who had been doused with pesticides during an imaginary farm accident.
"It's a viable scenario," said Ball. "If someone were sprayed with the pesticides, they'd have to be decontaminated before we could bring them into the emergency room to avoid the risk of exposure to medical personnel. This is just one way the mobile decontamination unit could be used."
The unit, housed in a trailer, consists of a portable tent with a shower, power and water hookups to a pumper truck, and a runoff collection system to prevent spillage. Operating personnel wear varying degrees of hazard protection suits, depending on the chemicals involved.
"The mobile decontamination unit is a joint funding project of the Danville Fire Department, Boyle County Fire Department and Boyle Fiscal Court," said Ball. "We're fortunate that they saw the need to fund a unit like this, because there is a tremendous need for it."
Ball said potential scenarios include any hazardous chemical spill, whether by transport or industrial, to which people are exposed. "This could be used to help police who might be exposed to hazardous chemicals during a meth lab bust," said Ball.
Wednesday's test at the hospital was the first step toward making the unit fully operational, Ball said.
"This is our first time doing this at the hospital, and it tests our capabilities to hook up with their equipment," said Ball. "Next spring we plan to test it at one of the local industries, and at that point we hope to be ready to use it."
"We work with the fire departments a lot," said Clayton Denny, safety director at McDowell. "Obviously, we're the first place they'd come with victims of a situation like this, so it's important that our people and theirs work together to be prepared."
The drill involved 12 firefighters, and the group had the unit operational in less than 16 minutes from the time of arrival.