Emergency responders train for disaster

MARQUETTE – Dozens of local emergency personnel joined together Wednesday to hone their collective response to a situation involving hazardous materials.

Marquette County police, fire and EMS personnel participated in the exercise, which took place Wednesday morning near the city’s Power Station No. 4 on Powder Mill Road in north Marquette.

City fire department Chief Tom Belt said the simulation involved the discovery of a radioactive material in the power station. In the drill, local police and fire departments responded to a call and alerted specialists, the Michigan National Guard’s 51st Civil Support Team, based out of Fort Custer near downstate Battle Creek.

Wednesday marked the first time the team took part in an exercise in the Upper Peninsula.

Belt said the chance to watch the team, which specializes in operations and support related to hazardous materials and weapons of mass destruction, was invaluable for the local representatives.

If a similar situation – a toxic spill, for example – actually occurred, local responders would need to handle the situation until specialists could arrive.

“Depending on what the emergency was, their lead time would be eight to 12 hours out,” Belt said. “We would call them subsequent to the mayor declaring a state of emergency.”

he said the exercise was also a great opportunity for a number of countywide organizations to practice working together, and estimated that about three dozen people from agencies across the region took part in the exercise.

Perhaps most importantly for the day-to-day operation of local first responder units, the exercise allowed them to test “communications interoperability,” according to Belt.

Though the groups have to work together on a fairly routine basis – Belt mentioned the Tower Lake Fire, the Black River Falls Fire, the Marquette Branch Prison riot, a flood and several snow emergencies as recent examples – they rarely have a chance to test inter-agency radio communication.

“The critical part of every big operation like this is communication,” he said.

The Marquette County Sheriff’s Office, the Michigan State Police’s Emergency Management Division, Marquette County Search and Rescue, the Marquette Township Fire Department, Marquette General Hospital’s radiological staff, and city EMS were involved in the exercise, in addition to city police and fire.

Belt said there are generally two large, multi-agency simulations each year.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.