NAPOLEON — Emergency personnel, the Henry County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and other state and county entities took part in a full-scale safety drill on the campus of Napoleon Junior/Senior High School on Tuesday morning.
In the scenario presented to test school personnel, first responders and others, a chlorine leak was simulated in the vicinity of the pool area on the back, north side of Napoleon Junior/Senior High School. The drill included the evacuation of nearly 1,000 students and staff to an off-campus site, the lockdown of Napoleon Elementary School and the shutting down of that school’s HVAC system.
The Napoleon Fire Department, Napoleon Police Department and Henry County EMA sent personnel to the scene of the drill that included four (fake) casualties that were (fake) sent to Henry County Hospital, with the help of the Henry County South Ambulance District. In addition, St. Paul Lutheran School and St. Augustine Catholic School also offered assistance.
“From my perspective I thought the drill went very well, and I thought the communication was excellent with the emergency responders and school officials,” stated Napoleon superintendent Erik Belcher. “I thought we were very efficient in getting the students and staff evacuated (26 minutes to get everyone from the school to the secure location a 1/2 mile away).
“I’m looking forward to the debriefing, we’ll learn where we had some holes, what we did well, and what we can do better,” added Belcher.
At approximately 8:35 a.m., Belcher was notified that smoke was coming from the back of the building, and the command to evacuate the school was sent. By 9:01 a.m., all students and staff were accounted for at a secure location. As part of the scenario, some students were told to arrive to school late, where they were promptly sent to Napoleon Elementary School and became part of the lockdown.
The Napoleon Police Department closed streets in and around the school to aid the evacuation, took part in securing the evacuees, and Chief David Mack was on site at Napoleon Junior/Senior High School for assistance. Meanwhile, members of the Napoleon Fire Department assisted four casualties of the (fake) chlorine leak, set up a Hazmat cleaning station, and later, donned Hazmat suits to handle the leak.
Fire Chief Clayton O’Brien was on site to lead fire personnel, while Tracy Busch, Henry County EMA director, and Nick Nye, Henry County EMA deputy director, were also on hand. Assessing the drill were EMA personnel from the state of Ohio, and Fulton, Hancock, Paulding, Williams and Wood counties, among the many personnel at the scene.
At 9:58 a.m., the building was given the “all clear” so students and staff could return. By 10:15 a.m., everyone was clear of the evacuation site, and by 10:30 a.m., everyone was back in the school, and accounted for by school personnel.
“I’m really proud of the school for how well it handled the evacuation, to get that many people to the secure location in 26 minutes, and to have them all accounted for is remarkable,” said Busch. “The school was also able to get its special needs students to a different secure location without any issues, which is great.
“Overall I thought it went very well, I thought the communication between the school, the emergency personnel and the police department was very good, and I thought the fire personnel were very professional and handled themselves well,” added Busch. “What I didn’t see was the plan, it seemed everyone was doing it by memory, but the plan needs to be out. It’s good we’re going to sit down and assess this.”
Mack shared in a scenario such as a chlorine leak, police personnel don’t normally assist in shutting it off, but they do have important tasks.
“The biggest piece we have right out of the gate is the safety of people in general, and especially the evacuees,” said Mack. “Our job is to get the roads shut down as fast as possible for the evacuation, because we don’t want kids going everywhere. The secondary piece to us is security, making sure we’re where the kids are, dealing with parents/guardians, and/or anyone coming to the scene.
“I thought the school did a great job of getting the information out there to the public, and of notifying the neighbors, which made our job easier,” continued Mack. “In the event of an actual emergency like this, we (the police department) will play the primary role in getting information to the public. With no one in the school, we’re going to take the phone calls, and we have to be sure we have the information.”
At the end of the full-scale drill, O’Brien shared it was a very good training for his department.
“From our perspective, it was very realistic for us, from the amount of staff we had turn out,” said O’Brien. “We had guys doing triple duties, from assessing the situation upon arrival, to going to get casualties, to putting on Level A Hazmat suits to go stop the leak. I also thought the communication among everyone was good. During the post-incident analysis, I’m sure we’ll learn some things we could have done better.
“I’m not the type to say that everything went perfect, and if we don’t critique and identify the things we can get better on, then you get complacent,” added O’Brien. “There will be some things we identify, and work on those, but overall I thought it went very well.”