PORTLAND – Portland emergency responders were put to the test Thursday, called upon to deal with a simulated scenario involving a major pesticide spill resulting from a traffic accident, with a few curve balls thrown in.

The five-hour exercise, conducted on Read Street and in adjacent neighborhoods, called for the fake pesticide to leak into the sewer system. Had it been real, fumes would have started flowing into people’s homes through their sewer drains.

The drill was designed to test the response planning and skills of the city’s Weapons of Mass Destruction team, established with the assistance of the Department of Homeland Security. One lane of Read Street and a portion of Baxter Boulevard were closed to traffic during the exercise.

Team members devised an evacuation plan for neighborhoods served by the contaminated sewer system and for crews at the East End sewage treatment plant.

Deputy Fire Chief Steve Smith said crews responded well, but that communications problems continue to be an issue. An unanticipated glitch — a key responder’s radio didn’t work — slowed things initially.

“Shame on us for not testing it first,” Smith said. But the team adapted quickly to other communications obstacles thrown in their way, he said. “We’re better prepared than we’ve ever been and we’re getting better all the time,” he said.

Officials also planned for the hours after the spill, developing a system for checking people’s homes for fumes and getting them back inside safely, city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said.

Other unforeseen complications: The car that caused the initial crash was stolen and the driver ran, creating a crime scene in the middle of the emergency response; and in the midst of the excercise, the simulation staged a bank robbery which required some police officers to leave the scene.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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