Fightertown strengthens oil-spill response

7 Nov 2008 | Cpl. Ryan L. Young

The sun just passed the horizon in the early morning; its cold outside and even colder for those on boats fighting the coastal winds and splashes of water soaking their feet while they struggle to contain a simulated oil spill that has just taken place at the fuel pier aboard the Air Station. Orders are being given through the radio and relayed by the boat drivers to the crews. The simulated spill spreads and plans change, the crews on the boats adjust and improvise until, at last, it’s contained just hours after the first drop of hazardous material seeped into the water. For some, this was the first time practicing to contain an oil spill making this training vital to those involved in handling oil spills here.
Members of the Facility Response Team and Spill Management Team participated in a bi-annual spill management training to test their readiness here, Oct. 28 – 30.
“The threat of a spill is always a possibility,” said Charles Herron, an environmental protection specialist here. “This training prepares the entire team to properly react, contain and manage an oil spill.”
Fuel arrival here is based on operation tempo, but fuel usually is delivered once a week. The training keeps Fightertown in compliance with all regulations and helps the response teams understand how oil acts in water, Herron explained.
“We rely on the great job that Station Fuels does to prevent spills from happening,” Herron said. “If an incident does happen, this training prepares the responders to act correctly without delay.”
The response team is a two-group reaction element known as the Facility Response Team and the Spill Management Team. The FRT, which is made up of environmental specialists, Station Fuel’s Marines, Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Marines and structural firefighters, are trained to respond, contain and retain a spill on water. The team is also trained on boat driving and equipment operation needed to get the job done.
“When the wind is blowing and the tide is changing, driving the boats and deploying the equipment becomes extremely difficult,” Herron said. “This training helps prepare them for any possible situations.”
The SMT was trained on the proper use of the Incident Command System and how to manage the response and flow of information through out the team. The SMT handles all efforts in the event of the oil spill, according to Herron.
The training was no walk in the park for the reaction teams. After a full day of classes, the teams were put the test with a simulated oil spill. Yellow blocks of wood about the size of a checkbook were dumped in to the water at the fuel pier to resemble an oil spill. The blocks began to spread quickly and the FRT went into action. The boats were moved into position and hundreds of feet of booms, a vinyl floating containment tool, were deployed around the oil spill.
“We used booms to surround and contain the oil spill,” Herron said. “We then created a funnel with the booms and connected them to a skimmer to retain the oil.”
Some of the simulated JP-5 spread past the initial contamination zone and the FRT improvised by creating a horseshoe shape with booms to contain and transport the hazardous material back to the funneled containment area.
“Each time we learn a little more and get a little better at our mission,” Herron said. “It is an important experience for everyone involved.”
The Air Station also trains with Parris Island responders to help them understand the strategies used, according to Herron.
“If an incident were to happen they would be our immediate backup to provide assistance,” Herron explained.
On the last day of training, the SMT gathered in the Emergency Operations Center to simulate the coordination and management of actions and information during and after the event of an oil spill.
“Everyone’s input is valued and is an important part of a unified effort,” said Robert Mitchum, a contingency preparedness specialist. 
“We collectively work to meet everyone’s needs, such as coordinating to protect wetlands and wildlife near the spill,” said Coast Guard Cmdr. Gerard Williams, the chief of response for sector Charleston.
Members of the Coast Guard were in attendance as the Federal On-Scene Coordinators. As the FOC for any coastal zone spill, the Coast Guard provided oversight and assistance to make sure all the right steps are taken to mitigate any harm to the environment, Williams said.
“It is our responsibility to ensure proper cleaning and provide evaluation feedback to the responders,” Williams explained. “We also get the chance to gather lesson’s learned to share and add to future training.”
At the end of the training, the group reviewed their actions, problems and how they addressed them during the simulated incident, according to Herron.
“We realize how complicated and complex an actual spill can be and it would be extremely hard to manage without this training,” Herron explained.