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Emergency personnel work well together

GRANDVIEW - Emergency response personnel are trained to respond to a variety of emergency situations, and last week they were able to put some of that training to work. Last Wednesday, a chemical fire at the Wilbur-Ellis facility in Grandview forced an evacuation, street closures and the set-up of an emergency shelter. It also brought together emergency responders from across the state, from local police and fire officials to members of the Washington State Department of Ecology.

Jim Hall with the Yakima County Office of Emergency Management said every year emergency responders receive some kind of chemical spill training. He added that the county also has a hazardous materials plan in place, a plan that helped ensure things in Grandview ran smoothly last Wednesday as different entities gathered to deal with the chemical fire.

"Everything went really well," he said.

Hall explained there is a sequence of events that is followed whenever an event like this occurs. He said the first responders make their way to the emergency, this time that was the Grandview fire and police departments, and depending on what they find it goes from there.

Hall said Grandview emergency personnel immediately knew what they were dealing with and starting evacuating residents and businesses within a half-mile radius of the fire.

"They got the half-mile radius set up before any other agency got involved," Hall said.

He said Grandview then requested mutual aid, which brought in hazardous material teams, as well as the Washington State Patrol and the Department of Ecology.

"It's an evolving process," Hall said.

Grandview Fire Chief Charles Damron said when his department first pulled up to the fire they knew immediately what they were up against.

"We knew it wasn't going to be good," Damron said.

He said within 10 to 15 minutes of fighting the fire, a unified command post had been set up at the Grandview Police Department with city personnel and members of the Washington State Patrol.

"We got the ball rolling," Damron said, adding that it was the first time Grandview has had to set up a unified command post.

Damron said most of his volunteers spent much of last week manning the fire at the agricultural chemical facility. He said several took vacations from their day jobs to attend to the blaze, while others worked all day, then spent their nights standing watch.

"Everyone worked on not very much sleep," he said.

Grandview Police Chief Dave Charvet said as soon as his officers discovered what was burning, a decision was made to begin evacuating the area within a half-mile radius of the fire. He said evacuation efforts started within half an hour of the fire being reported.

Charvet said as his officers were working to evacuate people, they called for assistance from the Grandview Public Works Department, the Yakima County road department and the Washington State Department of Transportation to close roads.

Charvet said last Wednesday the Grandview Police Department had all of its officers, from animal control to reserves and Explorers, out watching road blocks and patrolling streets.

Charvet said the incident that occurred last week is something that is practiced for, and now that it's over it is something they will learn from.

"Now we learn what we need to do make it run smoother," Charvet said. He added that he was happy to see all of the different entities involved come together and work hand-in-hand.

"Everybody took their roles and ran with it," Charvet said.

Grandview Public Works Director Cus Arteaga said his crew was out helping close roads and flag vehicles. He noted that all of the city's public works employees are certified flaggers.

Arteaga said besides watching over road blocks, his crews were also on hand in case any of the emergency crews needed anything from a back-up generator to a heavy piece of equipment.

"We were there to make sure if something went down we could get it back up right away," Arteaga said.

He added that since his crews were out on the street, they were also able to assist the effort by reporting back to the unified command center just what was happening in the area near the fire.

Arteaga said his department has an emergency response plan, a plan that was put into action last week.

"I though it went pretty well for what we had to do," Arteaga said.

Grandview City Administrator Jim Sewell said the city does have an emergency operation plan, and it was followed last week. He said one of the first steps in the plan is for the senior police officer on duty to decide whether or not to open an operations center. This was something Charvet did last Wednesday.

Sewell said as the situation became multi-jurisdictional the Washington State Patrol came in to take charge, which was when other entities joined in, such as the Department of Ecology.

Sewell said now that the smoke has cleared the city can take time to look at ways to fine tune their emergency plan.

"So it's even a little bit better," he said.

Emergency crews weren't the only people who responded to last week's fire. Both the Grandview and Sunnyside Parks and Recreation departments played a part in working with the families who were displaced.

Gretchen Chronis with the Grandview Parks and Recreation Department said they stayed close to the evacuees and served as a line of communication between the unified command center and the displaced families. She said they also brought in food donated from the Sunnyside Wal-Mart store, and helped ensure that people had what they needed.

Joan Niemeyer with the Sunnyside Parks and Recreation Department said she was called back to the Sunnyside Community Center at 9:30 p.m. last Wednesday night to let the American Red Cross into the building. She said the community center became an emergency shelter for those evacuated from their homes.

Odetta Linden with the Red Cross said they first set up an emergency shelter at Sunnyside High School last Wednesday, but soon found themselves moving to the community center. She said at the community center they worked to set up cots and put together snacks for the evacuees. She said more than 20 people stayed in the shelter that night.

The next night, Wilbur-Ellis paid for the families to stay in local hotels. Linden said by that time the number of people at the shelter had grown to nearly 180.

Linden said because of the generous donation from Wilbur-Ellis, as well as other local businesses and community members, the emergency operation didn't cost the Red Cross too much. She said the only thing they had to pay for were some of the necessities people needed when they arrived at the shelter, including diapers and baby formula. She noted that many people arrived with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.

Overall, Hall said he feels things went well in Grandview, adding that it was great to see such strong support from neighboring communities when it came to dealing with the blaze. He said there were emergency personnel from Union Gap, East Valley, Selah and Yakima who came to support the effort.

"It's what we all work for," Hall said. "It was really good to see the response from everybody."

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