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Firefighters took turns walking into an inferno to cap a gas leak. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Osage disaster drill: Planning for the worst hoping they never use the skills

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The tiny hamlet of Osage appeared to have been visited by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Wednesday evening, judging from the fires, explosions, car accidents and general mayhem around town.

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A massive and multi-staged disaster drill, including a car wreck, propane inferno, trench collapse and other calamities took place in order to train 125 emergency personnel from 21 agencies.

Steven Spielberg would have envied the staging of events, orchestrated by Carsonville Fire & Rescue Chief Roger Wilson, with the aid of a platoon of helpers.

The drill was interrupted by two real-life accidents, injecting some confusion and extra stress into the overall operation.

At 5 p.m. a motorcycle-deer collision occurred at Becker County 37 and Highway 113.

Todd Pearson, 50, of Fosston, was airlifted to a Fargo hospital. His wife, Nancy, 50, was believed to have suffered non life-threatening injuries. Both were wearing helmets, said Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon. Todd Pearson's condition and location are not known at this time.

Two hours later a head-on collision occurred on Becker County 123, three miles south of Highway 34.

A vehicle driven by Ryan Mattson, 20, of Osage, struck a vehicle driven by Garnet Mosse, 22, of Akeley.

The drivers were transported to St. Joseph's Area Health Services in Park Rapids for treatment, according to Gordon. A small child was in one of the vehicles.

"It was good to be tested like this," Hubbard Emergency Responder Jason Johnson said. "We don't want to get lazy."

Evaluators were at each accident site and gave a debriefing after the two-hour exercise was over.

Incident commander Steve Pachel had barely returned from the motorcycle accident when he assumed the unified command center at the Carsonville fire hall.

There were some minor communications problems, and as Wilson called in incident after incident, the command and staging posts seemed unsure of what equipment they actually had on hand with trucks and personnel returning and heading out to the real accidents.

And the choreographed events contained a hiccup or two.

The staged drowning in Straight Lake had to be canceled for lack of personnel. So did the exercise tracking the lost children in a field.

Two responders "died" at a trench collapse when they didn't follow protocol. One entered the trench without assessing the hydrogen sulfide level. The second tripped over a live wire, slip-ups that could have been fatal in real life.

"We have to think about our own safety, too," evaluator Kevin Tingwall said.

The car crash rescue, in which a power pole toppled onto one of the vehicles, went a bit too slowly, the evaluator found.

And it wasn't until several minutes into the drill that responders noticed a young boy lying within the substation fence unconscious and raced to his side.

One contaminated "victim" got up and started walking around during the drill.

But for the most part, Pachel pulled it all together and ended on a high note, getting a round of applause.

The propane explosion was handled well, the evaluator said. Firefighters took turns bravely walking into an inferno and reaching the gas valve on the propane tank to turn off the source of the fire.

The trench victim was airlifted by helicopter, the three-vehicle accident victims peeled off their gooey makeup and came back to life, the sweating firefighters stripped to their shorts (not undershorts) and they all gathered for burgers and hot dogs provided by the Osage Lions Club.

Among the participants were the Park Rapids, Wolf Lake, Detroit Lakes, Carsonville, Audubon and Frazee fire departments and each department's rescue/responder units, Hubbard County's K-9 officer and emergency manager, Fire, Inc., North Memorial Ambulance and helicopter personnel, Frazee Police Department, Detroit Lakes St. Mary's Emergency Medical Services, Itasca-Mantrap, the Becker County Dive Team, Becker County Sheriff's Department and Becker County Mounted posse.

"Yeah, we lost two guys," Johnson said of the pseudo deaths at the trench. And even though it was just a drill, participants took the loss hard.

But most reasoned that's what drills are for, to iron out the kinks, even if it costs a couple of imaginary lives.

They took the exercise deadly serious.

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Sarah Smith
Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.
(218) 732-3364
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