Emergency responders gather west of McCallsburg

Marlys Barker
Emergency responders gather west of McCallsburg

Fifty-two emergency responders from all over Story County, and even three people with Mercy One helicopter in Des Moines, gathered in a soybean field several miles west of McCallsburg Monday evening.

The responders were taking part in a mock exercise and training event provided by RENEW Energy Maintenance, which is responsible for four wind turbines in Story County. In addition to two turbines west of McCallsburg at the AgLand Wind Farm, the company maintains a turbine located between Maxwell and Collins and a turbine just north of Zearing. It also has two turbines in Hamilton County.

RENEW employees Steve Tolrud, safety coordinator, and John Hovland, RENEW technician trainer, were responsible for providing the training. They contacted Story County Emergency Management, and Melissa Spencer, deputy coordinator of Story County Emergency Management, said the county office spread word about the training opportunity to all fire and rescue response agencies in the county.

Spencer was pleased with the fact that in addition to her office (represented by herself and Director Keith Morgan) and Mercy One personnel, six other agencies in the county were on hand. They included fire and EMS from Maxwell, Roland, McCallsburg, Colo, Nevada and Ames.

The training was educational, covering a variety of factors that contribute to the safety of turbine workers, such as what kind of gear they wear and how it is put on and taken off; how emergency responders can communicate with turbine workers, who generally leave a radio and other information in the front seat of their trucks; basic safety procedures when working around turbines; how fast and hard someone would fall to the ground from the top of a wind turbine (as demonstrated by the dropping of a heavy bag off of one of the turbine towers); how a person in distress could be lowered with a rope from the top to the bottom — a distance of 80 meters — of a turbine and more.

One of the things Hovland covered with responders is something called “suspension trauma,” which is unique to those who are working at great heights and fall while in a harness. He explained that the blood pools in the legs, and if that person is laid down flat right away, the organs can’t process the blood and that can kill them. Hovland said they’ve had people die in this manner. “We always treat them in a seated position first,” he said.

Since the two turbines that were used for training Monday are in the McCallsburg Fire and Rescue’s territory, McCallsburg Fire Chief Keith Anderson was glad to have at least seven firefighters and three EMTs on hand for the exercise out of the department’s roughly 17 members. He was also happy with the great turnout from other departments in the county.

“It’s great to pre-plan with local businesses so we can insure the best outcomes in a real emergency,” Anderson said. He admits that the huge turbines, which tower over you as you stand underneath them, can be intimidating. “But this training helps let the crew know what they will need to do.”

Anderson said of all the things learned Monday, he was most intrigued with learning that a person being lowered by a rope — as was demonstrated Monday with a mannequin — can descend at a rate of three feet per second from the top of a tower in an emergency. “That’s a lot faster than I expected,” he said.

Chuck King, who has been an emegency pilot for 28 years and flew the helicopter to Story County on Monday, said being part of these training exercises is something Mercy One does regularly. Not only does it help the crew members learn about different scenes that they might come across, but King is also able to help the responders know what is needed from them for Mercy One to have a workable landing zone at that site.

“I’ve never been this close to [a turbine] before,” King said, but he noted that one of the nurses with Mercy One had responded to a wind turbine emergency.

RENEW Energy Maintenance employees said the goal of the exercise was to provide realistic training, to increase operational effectiveness and ensure the best outcome, especially for their technicians, in case of a real emergency.

“I’m very pleased with the turnout,” Tolrud said. “This community, this county, has a lot of support for wind energy.”

Spencer said her office is also pleased that so many responders took the opportunity to come to the field west of McCallsburg Monday evening. “It is interesting to see what these wind turbines look like up close,” she said. “It is also good to put faces with the names of people we could be working with in this type of emergency.”