Kanawha County emergency officials will no longer blindly send an ambulance inside a local chemical plant unless plant personnel can tell them why the ambulance was called and describe conditions inside the plant.
Instead, emergency crews will be sent to a staging area about a mile away until the nature of the emergency can be determined.
On Jan. 23, personnel at the DuPont chemical plant in Belle called for an ambulance after plant worker Carl "Danny" Fish was sprayed with phosgene. Fish later died from the exposure.
But ambulance personnel who responded to the plant said they did not know there was a chemical leak at the plant until they were already inside the gates, and had taken no safety precautions. Phosgene is a deadly gas that was used as a chemical weapon during World War I.
Recordings of Kanawha County Metro 911 radio traffic from the incident reveal emergency dispatchers repeatedly asking if there was a chemical leak at the plant, and repeatedly being told plant personnel couldn't say.
On Monday, Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority director Joe Lynch sent letters to the managers of the DuPont plant in Belle, Bayer CropScience plant in Institute and Dow chemical plant in South Charleston outlining the new protocol.
Under the new guidelines, emergency dispatchers will ask chemical plant personnel a series of standard questions in an emergency call. One of the questions will be whether a chemical is involved.
If plant personnel can't or won't answer the questions, emergency responders will not go to the plant, but will set up a staging area about a mile away. Emergency crews will go into the plant only after their safety is assured.
"I have directed 911 to implement the policy with immediate effect," Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said Monday. "I simply will not accept putting either a law enforcement officer, firefighter or paramedic in harm's way if it can be avoided.
"They have a right to know. I just want law enforcement officers, firefighters and medics to live."
DuPont plant manager Bill Menke said he met with Carper last week to talk about the new protocol.
"We've got a good working relationship with the county and will continue to make improvements wherever we can," Menke said.
Reach Rusty Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org
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