County holds drill
• Mock chemical spill tests the county's readiness in the face of a deadly disaster
By Faye Ellison
Many county agencies converged in Louisville Saturday morning to conduct a full-scale drill to evaluate the East Central Health District, which includes Jefferson and Glascock counties.
The drill began at 7:30 a.m. with a mock chemical spill resulting from an accident involving a chemical tanker transporting 750 gallons of chlorine gas in Jefferson County.
Later, a bus carrying prisoners driving in the opposite direction of the tanker wrecked after fumes overcame the driver.
Using this wreck and spill, the East Central Health District hopes that the exercising operational procedures will lead to a successful operation in real-world situations.
"We were mandated by the East Central Health District to hold a Treatment Trioage and Transportation Center," Designated County Emergency Coordinator Janet Pilcher said.
People from the county and other areas from the East Central Health District participated in a disaster drill that Pilcher said could be very real one day.
"The reason we do it is it helps prevent problems when the real thing happens," Pilcher explained. "When you have an incident and the hospital is overrun with people, there has to be a place to take care of people outside of the hospital."
Though some of the patients of the chemical spill were transported to Jefferson Hospital, others involved went to the National Guard Armory on Highway 24 West, which was one of the main areas for Saturday's drill. The center would serve as a county-wide triage and trauma center where victims' conditions could be evaluated and treated, depending on the seriousness of their
Both Pilcher and EMA Director Lamar Baxley felt that the mock chemical spill was a success for the county.
"Overall it went really well," Baxley said. "We found a few mistakes of communication, but it still went well."
Pilcher said there were four different areas where the drill's patients were sent Saturday; minimal, delayed, immediate and expectant. She explained that a majority of the patients were minimal.
Pilcher said the minimal patients had their eyes and skin washed, then they talked to a counselor about their concerns, needs or complaints. Delayed patients have breathing problems. Those patients who are immediate have respiratory difficulty. They are assessed and then sent to the hospital. Patients that passed and cannot be revived are expectant.
In case of a real spill, the East Central Health District tells the public to stay away from the accident site. Anyone who lives near the site but have not been exposed to the chemical are asked to stay inside their homes and to close all windows, turn off heating, air conditioner units and other devices that would bring contaminated air inside the home.
During the drill, there were 45 victims to go through the treatment center where 75 people from different agencies were working.
"I think our organization was really good," Pilcher said. "It was well organized. Everybody knew what they were supposed to do."
Pilcher did note that there were some things that would be different in case of a real disaster like this one.
"There are little things we will go back and look at," she said. "There is some paperwork that needs to be changed. Also, in a real live situation, we wouldn't have visitors."
Pilcher said she felt if a real disaster happened today, the county agencies could handle it.
"I think we learned a lot on how to set it up," she said. "If we got the call today, we could go set up a center."
The plan could also work in other situations, Pilcher noted. It was used in Graniteville, S.C. after a train wreck caused a spill which released contaminates around the area. She said it could be a helpful plan during a bombing or bio-terrorism threat such as anthrax.
The plan itself is one that health districts have adopted from the military.
This is not the first time that the county has used mock disaster to help better prepare the county agencies.
"We have been doing them every year," Pilcher said.
"Jefferson County will continue to have one every year," Baxley said. "We are in the process of working on one in the county during the summertime."
The drill similar to this one was held last year in Emanuel County for the East Central Health District. There was also an mock anthrax scare held in Glascock County.
In addtion, the county holds their own drills, like the one held at Thermo King last year.
County agencies on hand were employees from the Jefferson County Health Department, the Department of Family and Children Services, Ogeechee Mental Health, EMA, Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, all the Fire Departments in Jefferson County, Louisville, Wadley and Wrens Police Departments, Georgia State Patrol and the Department of Motor Vehicle Safety.
Also on hand were employees of the East Central District and employees from Health Departments in Screven, Emanuel, McDuffie, Richmond, Warren, Lincoln and Burke counties.
Father Laurence Goulding of St. Joan of Arc served as clergy and a translator, along with Janet Studdard who also served as a translator.
Pilcher and Baxley both thanked the Lions Club, who allowed them to use their parking area and their building to later serve lunch. They also thanked the County Commissioners, Jefferson Hospital and JCCI.
"I think it was very successful for all of us to get together and to get this to happen," Pilcher said. "We had a lot of positive comments on how well organized we were. We could not have done this without all the different people playing their parts."
"We had good participation from the county," Baxley echoed. "I was pleased with everyone working together and as a team. I want to thank everybody that did participate and help."
First responders to be called
• Individual cities given choice to be have fire units paged as first responders
By Ben Roberts
Four of Jefferson County's six municipalities have told county officials they want their city fire departments to be toned out as "first responders" for medical emergencies.
The cities of Wadley, Bartow, Avera and Stapleton have all sent letters to the county stating they want their departments used as first responders.
The county's two largest cities, Louisville and Wrens - as well as the two county fire departments of Hillcrest and Matthews - have yet to make a final decision regarding the issue.
According to Jefferson County Administrator Paul Bryan, members of these four fire departments are not currently being called to respond to medical emergencies that fall outside the realm of normal fire and rescue duties.
While it is up to those two cities to make the decision regarding their individual departments, Bryan said the Jefferson County Commission had yet to make a decision on what to do with their two county units.
Near the end of last year, Bryan instructed the county's Emergency 911 call center to no longer page first responders due to questions concerning liability as well as proper training.
Soon after, a meeting was held between county officials and city representatives to discuss the matter. At that time, a number of cities expressed concern that their citizens might not get the most efficient and adequate care if their departments were not being used as first responders.
On Feb. 10, Bryan sent letters to the mayors of each city requesting that they let him know in writing if they wanted their respective departments called as "medical first responders" and under what criteria.
In a response dated the same day, Bartow Mayor Pro-tem Hubert Jordan told Bryan the Bartow Fire Department would "respond to any medical call where immediate assistance is needed to prevent further injury or loss of life."
The letter - as well as the letter from the city of Stapleton - went on to describe such medical emergencies as broken limbs, uncontrolled bleeding, respiratory distress, cardiac problems or unconscious persons.
Louisville City Administrator Don Rhodes and Wrens Mayor Dollye Ward both said their respective councils had yet to make a final decision on the matter. Ward said it was possible the issue could come before city council members at next Tuesday's regular meeting.
In a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, Avera Mayor Tommy Sheppard said there had been some confusion over the weekend about paging the city's first responders, but that he expected to have the matter sorted out the following day.
In an interview last Friday, March 3, Bryan said he thought the new process was working well and felt confident about allowing cities to tailor their responses.
"This allows each community to define what level of response they feel comfortable with providing in their area," he said. "They define their response capabilities."
Commissioner explains lack of attendance at county meetings
• Norton says health problems have prevented him from being present in past months
By Ben Roberts
Those in attendance at Jefferson County Commission meetings in recent months may have noticed the visible absence of a single commissioner from the five-member board.
District Three Commissioner Sidney Norton, who says he has suffered major health problems since the fall of last year, hasn't attended a commissioners' meeting since the October 11, 2005, regular meeting.
According to attendance records from the commissioners' office, out of a total of 39 commission meetings held last year, including work sessions, regular and called meetings and public hearings, Norton attended just 19.
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Compared to his fellow commissioners, Norton missed right at half of last year's meetings.
Commission Chairman William Rabun missed only two meetings in 2005, attending a total of 37. District Two's Johnny Davis attended 35, District One Commissioner Gonice Davis attended 33 and District Four's Tommy New attended 32 of the meetings.
In a phone interview Tuesday morning, Norton said he has been back at his Wrens home for three weeks after spending about eight weeks in Augusta as a result of his medical problems. Norton says he suffered a heart attack in November and has been awaiting heart surgery since that time.
Confined to a walker, Norton said it is difficult for him to move about and that traveling to meetings is a hardship given his condition, although he did have plans to attend the commission's Wednesday morning work session, his first in five months.
Norton, who is in the last year of his four-year term, admits his condition has removed him from day to day representation for his constituents, but that he doesn't feel he should step down at this point.
"Why would I step down in my last term?" he asked. "The people who have come to see me have told me they hope I get better and stay in there."
Norton says he should know within another few weeks whether he will undergo heart surgery or not. According to him, if his health improves in time for the November election, he will run for his seat again.
"If I come out all right, I will (run again)," he said. "If I'm not any better, it wouldn't make much sense."
Norton agrees he hasn't been much help to constituents while in Augusta, but he thinks he'll make up for it as soon as his health improves.
"I haven't (provided representation) in the last three months, but I couldn't give anybody anything," he said. "I try to give 100 percent when I'm there and I hope I can satisfy them for another four years."
Rabun says Norton's medical issues may have kept him from attending meetings, but he feels like the remaining commissioners have been available to assist the people of District Three.
"He's not been able to go and do, but the other commissioners have taken up the slack on that end," Rabun said. "I feel like the people up there are being taken care of."
Kara Sinkule, of the Georgia Secretary of State's Office, said a recall could be held to remove Norton, but that the process was a long and difficult one.
Georgia law bars recall efforts from beginning in the first or last 180 days of an elected officials' term. Were District Three voters to attempt to recall Norton, that process would have to be under way before July 27 to avoid the 180-day lockout.
Sinkule said that because of the time limits between steps in the recall process, however, a vote to replace Norton could not take place until close to the November election anyway.
Sinkule said the Governor could remove Norton himself, but that would only be done in extreme cases where elected officials are convicted of felonies or if Norton's absence had brought county business to a halt.
For his part, Rabun doesn't believe a recall vote would do the citizens of District Three, or Jefferson County, any good.
"I feel like he's doing all he can," he said. "We're just going to have to work with what we've got."
Norton took office in January of 2003, after beating District Three incumbent Paul Boulineau in a Sept. 10, 2002, run-off. He beat Boulineau 356-186, winning all District Three precincts but not the absentee voting.