First responders hold drill as part of largest emergency exercise in Maine

Posted Nov. 05, 2013, at 3:01 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 05, 2013, at 5:57 p.m.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Emergency responders from throughout the state joined national and international teams Tuesday morning during a simulated building collapse at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station as part of a four-day, statewide Vigilant Guard exercise.

Brunswick’s drill, the largest in the state, is expected to draw hundreds of Army National Guardsmen and other first responders around the clock through Thursday.

“The idea is that it’s a perfect winter storm,” said Maj. Michael Steinbuchel, spokesman for the Maine Army National Guard. “All this is happening in the setting of this massive ice blizzard. That’s how we get the snow load [that causes the simulated building collapse].”

Brunswick firefighters went to a remote road on the former Navy base just after 9 a.m. Tuesday for a mock report that Watson Ice Arena at Bowdoin College had collapsed. There was a potential fire at the site and white smoke rising from the building, Brunswick Fire Deputy Chief Jeff Emerson said at the scene.

Trucks rolled up to the building, which was surrounded by large rubble topped by a demolished compact car.

Actors displaying signs of trauma — including missing limbs, cuts and bruises — were scattered throughout the scene, with one lying motionless on a cement platform.

Two Brunswick firefighters approached the scene and, from a distance, called for any wounded able to walk to move toward them. They “treated” the first six patients, then retreated after determining the scene to be contaminated with ammonia gas.

“We didn’t go in,” Brunswick fire Capt. Matt Barnes said. “I wasn’t going to endanger my men.”

“In real-time events, this is what happens if we go in and there’s a perceived threat … if something changes in the event to alter our response,” said Robb Couture, public information officer for the South Portland Fire Department.

Fire personnel then called for the National Guard’s Civilian Support Team and began setting up two decontamination lines.

Funded by U.S. Northern Command and the National Guard Bureau, a Vigilant Guard exercise takes place each year in a different state, according Steinbuchel. Previous drills have included a wildlife scenario in Colorado and a hurricane drill in Florida, he said. Maine is the first New England state to host such a drill, he said.

More than 20 other drills are planned statewide, including a hazardous materials threat at the University of Maine in Orono, a hazardous materials accident in Calais designed to involve a cross-border effort with Canadian responders, and a security incident at the State House in Augusta.

On Thursday, a maritime incident in Portland will include a cargo ship coming into the port with a possible leak, which likely will draw hazardous materials teams.

Portland also will hold a public health drill Friday on pharmaceutical distribution.

The exercises are designed to improve communication and operational relationships among local, state, regional and military emergency responders.


An earlier version of this story misspelled Robb Couture’s name.