Exercise puts Arnold's fuel spill response team to the test

Release Number: 208105

In June, a core team of 20 key Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) hazardous spill response personnel, along with Aerospace Testing Alliance (ATA) firefighters, paramedics and security forces, responded to a simulated hazardous waste spill of 20,000 gallons of JP-8 fuel from the center's Operational Fuel Farm into the retention ditch behind the secondary pumping station.

John Casey, ATA spill response team lead and trusted agent for the exercise, said a drill of this magnitude is required every three to five years.

"We abide by the requirements dictated by the Fuel Response Plan, the Spill Prevention Controls and Countermeasures instructions as well as state and EPA regulations," he said.

Casey said better stewardship of resources and a more responsive mindset has changed the way the spill team and support personnel meet their training requirements.

"In the past, we had always satisfied those requirements by responding to real fuel spills, but our folks have gotten so good at preventing them that we now have to hold practice exercises like this to fulfill the training requirements," he explained.

"The goal is to deploy all of our specialists and equipment to make sure everything works and everyone knows what their role is in containing a spill of this type."

Casey said a real fuel spill of this magnitude would require a significant number of responders working at the scene for days, with one shift relieving the next until it was properly contained and the potential threat to human health and the environment mitigated.

"In the real world, a spill typically will occur at the worst time - two in the morning, it could be raining, lightning, or maybe cold, you'll be off-base, communications will be horrible and it would be hard to get people there," he explained. "But it's during third shift when things like this happen, a Chernobyl or Three-Mile Island."

Dan Johnson, ATA's installation exercise program officer, said the goal of the fuel spill exercise had two components - identifying areas needing improvement and training, including communication, familiarity with equipment, procedures and ensuring everyone involved knows their part in the process.

"The whole purpose of the exercise is to identify areas for improvement while providing a reasonably realistic training opportunity," he said. "That's really the focus of the Exercise Evaluation Team - helping to make the entire AEDC team better!"

Casey said the way everyone currently trains on base has also produced a more consistent and efficient way to deal with emergency situations.

"Everybody, including laborers and craft people, will have an equal input during a training exercise," he said. "We have no badges and no ranks out there. So, if a laborer comes up to me, and says, 'these gloves are too hot and they don't work well,' I make a note and get him new gloves because that way he knows his word is worth something and he has input, and he has buy in, because he is an important part of what we're doing. No one person can do all this, but it is my job to help facilitate the process, that's my job."