Firefighters trained for the Procter & Gamble site participate in a drill at the Albany plant. Regular safety full-scale drills are conducted at the plant. (Submitted photo)
ALBANY — Considering what goes on under the roof of the Procter & Gamble plant in Albany, there is potential for accidents or life-altering events to happen. The people working at the plant have planned for this.
On a regular basis, there are full-scale medic and Hazmat drills that take place at the plant with the cooperation of employees who volunteer to be a part of it.
The medic program started in 1998. Prior to that time, there were outside trainers being brought in. Now, there are nurses on the site that help coordinate drills with the cooperation of Dougherty EMS to help employees train for events such as heart attacks, or when someone stops breathing.
“The training is based on the fact we do have EMS on-site,” said Renaye Lewis, a certified occupational health nurse at the plant. “We treat emergencies on-site and (rely on EMS to take over).”
Dougherty EMS Director Greg Rowe said that paramedics were out at the facility about a year ago to tour the plant so they could navigate their way to a patient, which can be a challenge in a place in which the main building alone is 3.7 million square feet. That proved to be a vital first step in being able to care for those working on the Procter & Gamble site.
“It is important to get us familiar (with the Procter & Gamble plant),” Rowe said. “It allows us to meet the need.”
Investment in such a partnership came full circle on April 16 when a contractor at the Albany plant had a heart attack during an early morning meeting. A group of 11 people jumped in to perform CPR, which allowed the patient to be breathing again by the time paramedics arrived.
When EMS got there, the gates were open and there were golf carts available to transport them over to where the patient was. After that incident, the following medic class the plant hosted for employees was the biggest one they had up until that point.
“We didn’t save his life, you did,” Rowe said to a group of officials from the plant while recalling the incident…It saved a life. That’s the biggest difference.”
In order to respond to such emergencies, there are medics located in all five of the plant’s main areas. Drills are done at least once every quarter, and medics are spread out so that they can respond to a situation within four minutes. Being regular employees who volunteer, the medics are identified by a small orange pouch they carry with them.
The Hazmat drills performed on-site train personnel to respond to any chemical emergency that may happen at Procter & Gamble. There is a two-week, 60-hour class conducted, with the drills taking place once a year involving several first responder agencies.
“We leave the trainer to provide what we are dealing with, and it is ordered chaos for the first few minutes,” said Dennis Barthelemy, who is over the Hazmat operations at the plant. ” … (It is to) be prepared for any type (of spill).”
During the drill, the goal is to get the “spill” stopped, for firefighters to provide decontamination and for EMS to take over care for the injured people.
“It does look like ordered chaos, but it is executed very well,” said Hal Pinson, a shift supervisor with Dougherty EMS.
The point of the drills, EMS and Procter & Gamble officials said, is to give those involved an idea what to expect during the real thing — and the skills don’t necessarily have to apply to the workplace.
“The skills can go anywhere,” Rowe said. “Whether you go to the mountains or the beach, you can carry this anywhere. It’s not just EMS, but anybody who works in these plants.
“Hands-on CPR is doing something.”
From the EMS perspective, the Hazmat drills can be the most intimidating.
“We deal with the medical stuff everyday. We don’t deal with Hazmat,” Pinson said.” We are all about seeing safety. We go to wrecks (and be aware of) power lines or gas leaks. We don’t know if it is something localized or widespread.”
During a medic drill, an incident is staged and someone calls in a medic to respond to it. Business medic coordinators then score the procedure to make sure it is being performed as it should be. In the event of an actual emergency, Lewis said, emergency medical technicians are advised to go to the main gate so that someone who knows where the incident is can escort them — and care of the patient takes over from there.
There has never been a problem in getting employees to volunteer for the drills.
“They look forward to it,” Lewis said. “They hopefully will never have to do it, because it doesn’t happen everyday. It is hands-on, and will stick with them. We don’t struggle to get participants.”
The same goes with the Hazmat drills as well, which officials say they hope will soon incorporate more medical training.
“We hope we never have to use it, but because of the experience of our trainers, people want to participate,” Barthelemy said. “We have a tremendous response, and they do a good job.”
In all, there are 146 medics trained on-site with roughly the same number working each shift, who have 23 automated external defibrillators (AEDs) at their disposal. There are 66 personnel trained in Hazmat and about 100-125 trained firefighters for the site. There is also a separate rescue team consisting of about 60 people that responds to incidents that take place in confined spaces.
In situations calling for CPR, EMS officials say they encourage a team approach — both to ensure the tiring process is not interrupted and to not leave a patient when paramedics immediately walk in the door.
“The more you can have to rotate to do CPR the better, because CPR is tough, and until we shut the door and say goodbye, don’t leave us,” Rowe said. “There is a lot of detail that needs to be explained.”
As the employees at Procter & Gamble have, officials with Dougherty EMS are also using the April 16 incident at the plant as an example of how useful a CPR class can be.
“If people in the community would take part in a CPR class, it will save a life,” Pinson said. “We’ve seen the mortality rate go way down. Local classes all teach the same thing and have the same standard. Just being involved in a course like that makes a difference.
” … A lot of my customers want to do it every year, and CPR re-certification is every two years. People who care will take it as often as they can.”
The presence of AEDs alone can make a difference. It’s a device that people can sometimes be afraid of, although it is designed so that a person cannot hurt themselves or the patient while it is in use. The prices of AEDs are also dropping, making them more accessible in various public places such as government buildings or malls.
“It you have never done CPR, it will tell you how,” Rowe said. “You can’t bypass it inadvertently and shock someone.”
At least 20 percent of the plant’s employees are involved in rescue sites, and their respective departments need to release them from their duties to participate in the training — but it is worth it in the long run.
“It is not just about making a quality product,” Pinson said. “We are here to make sure employees are taken care of.”