Fairchild HAZMAT team assists local responders with chemical leak

  • Published
  • By Airman First Class Taylor Bourgeous
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Twenty-six Airmen from Fairchild Air Force Base assisted Spokane County agencies in responding to a toxic gas leak in Spokane Aug. 12 that resulted in the hospitalization of at least four people, two of whom were in critical condition, and at least 17 others who were downwind of the plume.

Thirteen Fairchild fire department personnel were initially called to provide decontamination for people exposed to the gas prior to their transport to the hospital. They were later joined at the incident scene by another dozen Fairchild Airmen from the 92nd Medical Group's bioenvironmental team as well as emergency management personnel from the 92nd Civil Engineer Squadron.

The incident began when Pacific Steel and Recycling employees placed an unmarked 55-gallon drum, thought to be roughly 25 years old, into the recycling center's crushing machine, resulting in the release of what was described as yellowish-green gas that immediately began causing respiratory distress for those present.

The response to this chemical leak required the coordination, training, experience and manpower of numerous emergency response agencies in the region, including members of Fairchild AFB. Kimo Kuheana, the 92nd CES fire chief, said there was no way one department could handle it all.

"We train nearly every day, and despite any manning issues we or any of the other agencies may have, we're able to come together as one unified hazardous material team," Kuheana said. "Incorporating all the different agencies together is huge for our community."

The Fairchild AFB HAZMAT team trains with the city of Spokane and local Kootenai County HAZMAT teams as the only three of their kind in the region, Kuheana explained. This incident, while unfortunate, provided a real-world situation that brought all their training to realization.

Staff Sgt. Bryan Foley, a 92nd CES emergency management member, said it was a shock to get the call because that morning he was teaching an Ability to Survive and Operate course on base to 156 students, then that afternoon he put his skills to the test helping to identify what was then an unknown hazard. It was later determined to be chlorine gas.

"Every agency out here is bringing something different to the fight," Foley said. "We have Airmen with only a few years of experience to some of the local firefighters who have more than 35 years of experience."

Fire Lt. D.J. Hill, the Fire Station 1 HAZMAT coordinator, said the partnership developed over the past nearly two years with Fairchild AFB during monthly training and alert response is critical to both agencies.

"I can't tell you how much we appreciate Fairchild's willingness to help us out," Hill said.

(Airman Sean Campbell, 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs, contributed to this story.)