MEMBERS OF BRUNSWICK AND TOPSHAM police and fire department, the Sagadahoc County Emergency Management Agency and others work in a simulated incident command post at the Topsham Public Safety Building Tuesday during a tabletop exercise involving a hypothetical chemical spill in the Androscoggin River watershed.

MEMBERS OF BRUNSWICK AND TOPSHAM police and fire department, the Sagadahoc County Emergency Management Agency and others work in a simulated incident command post at the Topsham Public Safety Building Tuesday during a tabletop exercise involving a hypothetical chemical spill in the Androscoggin River watershed.

TOPSHAM

The situation is this: It’s 8 a.m. on Patriots Day and two tractor trailer trucks have collided in front of the Brunswick and Topsham Water District’s well site on River Road in Brunswick.

One truck is carrying about 5,000 gallons each of gasoline and diesel fuel and is leaking fuel into a ditch; the other is carrying compressed natural gas and is highly flammable.

This was the initial information given to first responders and others key players participating in an Androscoggin River chemical spill tabletop exercise Tuesday sponsored by the Maine Rural Water Association and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Held at the Topsham Public Safety Building, participants included: Maine Emergency Management Agency as well as Sagadahoc County EMA, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Maine Rural Water Association; Maine Drinking Water Program; Brunswick Fire Department; Brunswick Sewer Department, Topsham Sewer District, Brunswick and Topsham Water Department, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Bath Water District, Topsham Police Department, United States Coast Guard and Mid Coast Hospital.

Fire and police members broke away into another room which served as the hypothetical incident command post as they responded to the scenario, calling for information from other entities as needed, discussing what information to release to the public in what way, while simultaneously getting new information from organizers along the way.

And it didn’t end there. They had to respond to a second incident 45 minutes later, a crash on Gurnet Road in Brunswick that left a propane delivery vehicle on its side in a ditch, leaking. Then Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick called to report low water pressure followed by a report of no water in some rooms.

Maine Rural Water Association’s Thomas Bahun, a training specialist; and Susan Breau, the source water program manager, worked together to plan the exercise. The private nonprofit organization gets funding from the EPA and USDA to do events like Tuesday’s training to help water and wastewater systems.

Bahun said in the aftermath of the Elk River spill in West Virginia on Jan. 9, 2014, “We’ve been approached by the state of Maine drinking water program to facilitate these, in an effort to avoid a similar situation.”

That spill involved a chemical that came from a large above ground storage tank that leaked into the river which went undetected for an unknown length of time. It got into the water supply and wasn’t thought to be toxic but contaminated the entire water system.

Bahun said once they focused on the Brunswick and Topsham Water District, “we looked at all the players that would be involved with a contamination threat.”

They also worked to identify those affected the most, such as hospitals, schools and nursing homes. Breau said they also wanted to turn the exercise into a teaching opportunity for other water systems in the region attending as well as the sewer districts.

Breau said the exercise created a contamination incident and then a “quantity” problem by having a fire which draws a lot of water, followed by a main break. The Brunswick and Topsham Water District has a lot of redundancies, she said, “and they’ve really thought things through well, so it was actually hard to create something that would stress them, which was great to see.”

The utilities have an emergency plan which should be up to date and this event allowed them to practice and test those plans, Bahun said.

Mike Abbott of the Maine CDC Drinking Water Program said the exercises stimulate discussions and force everyone involved to look at what their own role would be in a response situation, and try to identify weaknesses in their current protocol.

“One of the things we’re trying to promote is that in any kind of public emergency or anything that involves a spill that has the potential to affect the environment and nearby human health safety, to also make sure that someone’s thinking of potential impacts to drinking water because if a spill isn’t handled properly, it can create a huge public outcry,” as happened following the Elk River spill, Abbott said. It can become a long-term problem if the right action isn’t taken quickly.

In this incident, “we’re trying to minimize the flow of this gasoline into the river,” Abbott said. “My major concern would be, lets make sure none of it gets into the ground because that could impact those wells for years and years to come.”

Brunswick Fire Chief Ken Brillant has participated in many tabletop exercises and said it is always good as in this instance when he gets to work with a lot of people he doesn’t normally deal with, all at the same time. Whether it’s a bus crash, plane crash or major fire, much of the training aspects Tuesday are applicable to other emergency situations.

“The whole point of this is to not just think about what’s right in front of you, but what’s going to happen next,” Brillant said.

For more information about the training opportunities available like Tuesday’s tabletop exercise, contact the Maine Rural Water Association at (207) 737-4092.

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