So how prepared were emergency responders to a chemical leak in Dalton at the MFG Chemical plant?
As we found out, times have changed dramatically.
10 years ago, responders were all caught off guard by a much more serious chemical leak from the same company in Dalton, that caused dozens of people to be treated for inhaling gas accidently released into the air.
A decade ago, a cloud of toxic allyl alcohol escaped from the M-F-G plant. 154 people were treated after inhaling the vapor.. one of those was Dalton police Lieutenant Jamie Johnson. "You could just feel the burning sensation in the nose and throat," he remembers. "We were working through that, while trying to get people evacuated from their homes."
He says it's no secret that a gas mask would have prevented inhaling the toxic gas in the air back then. EMS personnel and firefighters were also treated for inhaling the toxic gas.
In the wake of that particular spill, the independent U-S Chemical Safety Board changed the standard response policy. Emergency Services Director Claude Craig says, the first thing that changed, was attitude. "Back then, it was like OK, so they spilled something," he says. "Well... that something can kill you."
The next thing that changed, was equipment to respond to chemical spills and releases.. every Dalton police vehicle now has a gas mask and a hazardous mask suit.
Most of Dalton's heavy response fire trucks also have them. "It provides the most respiratory and chemical protection for responders," says Greg Metcalf, a Firefighter 3 with the Dalton Fire Department.
New devices like this photo-ionization detector are used the moment firefighters arrive. "Whatever's in the air, this detector is going to measure," Metcalf says. "It doesn't tell you what it is, but it will tell you how much of it is in the air."
Other devices tell the hazard threat. "The readout will show if the threat is high hazard, medium hazard, low hazard, if it's toxic, or if it's a chemical warfare agent," says Metcalf.
While we were there at Dalton's Fire Station 1 downtown, the engines rolled out, lights flashing and sirens wailing on a fire call.
As always, no one knows exactly what they'll find when they get to the call they're responding to, but firefighters and residents are feeling a lot safer, because of what the fire trucks and accompanying police cars are now carrying with them.
"We are just so far above where we were, 10 years ago," says EMS Director Craig. "It's amazing."
Also being done now, are meetings between local responders, vendors, businesses and concerned residents in Dalton.
They meet twice a month now to share training and notification ideas, and, once a year, they hold a drill to measure response.
All of this, because of that one chemical spill, 10 years ago.
By Calvin Sneed