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Park Rapids Fire Chief Donn Hoffman, Hubbard County Sheriff Frank Homer and Dave Konshok confer as to their plan of attack during an emergency drill Thursday afternoon at the Lamb-Weston RDO plant. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Chemical spill drill south of Park Rapids simulated ammonia leak at potato plant

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Controlled chaos descended upon the Lamb-Weston RDO plant Thursday afternoon as a simulated chemical spill brought all hands on deck.

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The drill was required under the Department of Homeland Security, which wants counties and local governments to be prepared for any eventuality. Last year's tornado qualified as the "real deal" in emergency management training, said Dave W. Konshok, Hubbard County's Emergency Management Director.

The drill involved an imaginary ammonia leak within RDO's refrigeration system that injured six employees.

Numerous agencies responded as police radios crackled with developments coordinating the containment and rescue efforts.

For RDO, which has its own hazardous materials teams and incident response teams on duty during every shift, the drill reinforced the company's internal training.

Plant manager Mic Ryan said employees have practiced evacuating the building from at least two areas depending on wind direction.

Ammonia is "a direct inhalation threat," Konshok said. "It can case immediate respiratory problems."

Responders, including ambulance personnel, an RDO team, the Hubbard County Sheriff's Department, the Park Rapids Police and Fire Departments and St. Joseph's Area Health Services, established an incident command group, monitored and coordinated the progress inside the plant, set up a perimeter, conducted an accountability of all plant personnel and assessed the greater impact of a large leak while evacuating, decontaminating and treating the injured.

The extensive drill was monitored by RDO employees, each agency and Konshok, which conducted a debriefing Friday morning to assess how it went.

Ryan said there were four engineers at RDO, and if the leak was real, they would notify the state and Environmental Protection Agency of estimated amounts of chemicals released.

The Fire Department set up a mobile decontamination tent outside the plant to douse firefighters who responded.

Numerous stretchers carried out the wounded.

The hour-long event ended with each agency hoping not to see the others under these circumstances.

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