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OZARK-A potentially hazardous leak of chlorine and sulfur dioxide that has never happened in Ozark, but could happen any day, is what dozens of emergency responders prepared for during a drill on Friday.

The Ozark Fire Department coordinated a drill for Dale Medical Center and Ozark Utilities Board's wastewater treatment facility at Black Forest Industrial Park in Ozark on Friday. Several city officials and volunteers, including Carroll High School students and city and county volunteer emergency personnel, worked with the department to simulate a chlorine leak from a one ton cylinder used at the treatment facility.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to chlorine and sulfur dioxide could lead to multiple respiratory issues and burning pains, as well as blurred vision and skin injury. The CDC recommended residents exposed to chlorine move quickly to an area of fresh air.

Ozark Fire Operations Chief Jason Maertens said that while Dothan Fire Department serves as the region's Haz Mat response team should a hazardous chemical leak occur, the drill was necessary to prepare local officials on what their respective roles would be in assisting.

"We want to make sure that people are safe and accounted for, and evacuated as necessary," he said.

"One of the biggest problems in the past is that we all mitigate the incident fairly well, but we have to learn to unify command with any agency that's involved. It's about working together."

Dale Medical's Chief Nursing Officer Lisa Rawlings said the simulation gave the hospital's administration the opportunity to assess how prepared each department, and primarily the emergency and cardiopulmonary departments, were for a mass disaster. She said security at the hospital would also play a large role, as the hospital would need to be sure it treats only those it is capable of treating during a widespread spill.

Ozark Utilities General Manager Don Hallford said a rupture or a faulty valve on a cylinder could lead to a spill. He said the utility board would likely be the first to notify law enforcement if a spill happened, and would work to notify residents in the vicinity of the spill and evacuate as necessary.

Hallford said even the direction of the wind could affect how a chlorine spill is handled.

"It's unlikely that (a spill) would happen, but it can," Hallford said.

"We at the utilities board have our standard operating procedures that we've gone over many times, but it is real important that we go over this with emergency officials to know what our role is and what they are to do."

Dale County Emergency Management Agency Director Kurt McDaniel said communication and training are key elements of any drill or real-life emergency.

"There are some challenges with the different radio systems in the city and county, but we are working toward changing that," he said.

"For the residents, we just want them to be aware and stay tuned to any announcements that might come (in an emergency)."

Rawlings said a debriefing of the drill would take place so participants could know which areas to work on in the future.
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