By HEATHER WALTERS
Disaster can strike at any time, particularly when you are located in the Lowcountry: emergency responders in Colleton County work against Mother Nature when it comes to hurricanes, earthquakes, storms and floods, and they also must be ready for the manmade disasters that can come via the county’s railway and interstate systems. For these reasons, firefighter-paramedics must be ready. Last week, those with Colleton County Fire-Rescue participated in a statewide disaster drill. Agencies from across South Carolina have been preparing for this drill for nearly a year. “Many agencies participated with all aspects of Disaster Management and involved the military, state and local governments,” said Barry McRoy, chief of Colleton County Fire-Rescue. The majority of last week’s drill took place in nearby Charleston and Orangeburg counties. However, there was a portion of the drill that happened in Colleton County. The local scenario centered around a pretend explosive device that was detonated on a rail car at the Balchem Chemical Plant in Green Pond.” The large simulated explosion resulted in damage to the plant, the CSX rail and closed ACE Basin Parkway (US Hwy 17),” said McRoy. From this scenario, there were 15 simulated casualties. “Emergency crews had to handle the triage of the patients, coordinate the treatment and transport of the injured to hospitals outside of the region, due to the Charleston area being closed from simulated incidents occurring there on Monday,” said McRoy. “Due to the chemicals involved, Fire-Rescue’s HazMat Team responded to mitigate the situation and decontaminate the viable patients prior to transport to a medical facility.” In addition to local firefighter-paramedic crews, there were also law enforcement officers from Colleton County and from the state. There were also Department of Transportation employees who helped to coordinate traffic management. According to McRoy, this entire scenario used every part of an emergency that could happen in Colleton, including having several major transportation avenues being closed at once. “As with most Disaster Drills, this was a good practice session and several areas of improvement were identified,” said McRoy. In 2020, officials in Colleton County responded to several actual emergencies, including a cyber-attack; the COVID-19 pandemic; a tornado outbreak; a dam break; a tropical storm; and a World War II unexploded device discovered at the Lowcountry Regional Airport.