WINNERS: Aurora ERT members pose with their trophies after a successful Emergency Response Team Competition. Back row (left to right), Val Beck, Greg Rowe, Travis Hubers, Anthony Roark, Mike Boyd; middle row, Susan Jordan, Chris Niemann, Ted Wallace, Chris Chrismon, Jeffery Sanders, Gary Peterson; front row, William Arnold, Jason Simpson, Doug Niethammer. Contributed Photo.

Archived Story

Hometown team wins big

Published 10:42pm Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In an all-out competition between one corporation’s emergency response teams from across the nation, PotashCorp-Aurora’s team brought the big prize home.
They met in Rome, Ga., at Loss Control Training Center, a facility that could only be described as a giant playground for emergency response teams, with fabricated structures and simulated events good for one thing and one thing only: practice —taking the skills learned in training and putting them to use, according to Greg Rowe, manager of safety and health at the Aurora site.
“(The team is) exposed to real-world scenarios and being exposed to those real-world scenarios allows them to put their training to work,” Rowe said. “We do a lot of training at our facility, but we train in hopes that we never have to use it.”
Rowe, who attended the competition along with a crew of support staff and ERT volunteers, said the tests called on both the physical and mental capabilities of the ERT members. ERT professionals from the region acted as judges, assessing each team’s quick thinking in high-pressure situations like a hazardous material release into the environment. How a team addresses the situation, from the equipment they put on, to what agencies are notified, to how the surrounding community is informed, are all points weighed by the judges, Rowe said.
Some of those real-world scenarios put their skills to a true test, according to Jason Simpson, the Aurora team’s captain. They tackled physical challenges that included navigating a series of smoke-filled rooms, locating and dragging a 175-pound dummy to safety while essentially crawling, Rowe said.
“The tests were more difficult than (previous competitions), but we were prepared. Each person has something special to offer and was quick to step up and take the lead,” Simpson said.
The preparation paid off as Simpson, William Arnold, Chris Niemann, Chris Chrismon and Anthony Roark, the Aurora site core team, took first place in the Fire, Hazardous Materials and Overall Practical Skills categories. Six five-man teams competed, each team handpicked from a large number of emergency response personnel at PotashCorp’s facilities in Louisiana, Ohio, Georgia, Florida and Aurora. A sixth team was made up of personnel from PotashCorp’s smaller facilities across the nation, Rowe said.
For the individual practical skills contest, Arnold and Simpson came in first place and runner up in 0 to 4-years-experience category, while Chris Niemann took first in the 4 to 10-years experience category. The individual practical skills contest evaluated several disciplines of emergency response — fire, hazmat, technical rescue and medical — and it was “every man for himself” as each competitor went up against the entire pool of ERT members, including their own teammates.
Rowe said only the “best of the best” get tapped to go to the annual competition and choosing the best means several internal competitions set up throughout the year where ERT members can test their skills against one another.
The annual corporation-wide event is another layer of motivation to be in a constant state of preparedness at each site, explained Ray McKeithan, PotashCorp-Aurora’s public affairs manager.
“It gives them a chance to see where they stand next to their peers in regards to readiness in a state of emergency,” McKeithan explained.
In addition to taking home top honors, PotashCorp-Aurora’s Ted Wallace, emergency response supervisor, was awarded the company’s corporate award for excellence in emergency response, an award given for emergency response both on and off the job. Wallace has volunteered in the community for more than 20 years with the Bath Volunteer Fire Department, Pinetown Volunteer Rescue Services, Williamston Regional Response Team and the Sidney Dive Team.
“Ted is very involved in emergency response in Beaufort County, so it was great to see him win that award,” Rowe said, adding that another high point of the competition was a tribute for Franklin “Fig” Simpson, a long-term member of the ERT team and father to team captain Jason Simpson, who died last June.
Rowe stressed that the ERT victory was a victory for every department at the Aurora site.
“These guys do a lot of training that take them out of their day to day jobs,” Rowe said, adding that the coworkers who pick up extra duties during team members’ away hours are just as valuable a part of the emergency response team. “They may not be a member of the team, but they’re supporting the team at every level.”

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