Is the Heartland prepared for a major industrial disaster?

Hazmat training

Last Friday, Cargill Meat Solutions in Ottumwa ordered an evacuation after an ammonia leak started from the facility's roof. The Ottumwa Fire Department's Hazmat Team responded to the scene.

"The good thing about Cargill is that we train with Cargill every August," Fire Chief Tony Miller said. "You know [Cargill's] safety guide invited us down about three or four years ago to come down there and train, and they train literally all week long down there, so he invited us to come down there, and we've taken advantage of it, so when we had that situation the other night, you know they knew what we were gonna do, and they knew what we were gonna do, and it was handled about as good as it was going to get handled."

The Ottumwa Fire Department's Hazmat Team was established in 1991 and covers nine counties across the area. The crew trains once a week, going through various drills and simulations.

"Four times a year we'll have an instuctor come in and do a hazmat IQ class or do some kind of search and rescue, or a confined space class and we go and get all our monitors out and check and make sure everything's working, and we go through scenarios as if we have the real thing," Miller said.

City leaders also have a master action plan as well in the event of an industrial emergency or other major calamities. For City Administrator Joe Helfenberger, it was baptism by fire when the 2008 Flood occured here in the City of Bridges.

"The 2008 Flood happened a few months after I started working here," Helfenberger said. "The incident that happened at Cargill, it was significant, if it was a much larger incident, then we would get the emergency government involved and established. The command center would be opened, and the emergency plan would be activated."

In Wapello County, Josh Stevens is the emergency management coordinator.

"We actually have a plan that's required to be updated annually, which addresses hazardous materials," Stevens said. "Part of that plan is we speak with all of our resources, all of our partners and develop some sort of response to whatever type of scenario it is. It's not an incident specific plan, it's a general plan that talks about what resources we have available to mitigate those types of situations."

"I think were very blessed having Josh Stevens as our emergency government director," Helfenberger said. " He's been very capable; he's been able to get a lot of grants for both the city and county. That means, that's less tax dollars we have to ask for."