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Spencer, MA Water Emergency. April 25-28, 2007 Presented by Spencer Fire Chief Robert P. Parsons. Spencer, MA. Community of 13,000 residents 35 Square miles in size Full time private EMS Call Fire Department Roughly 1700 water connections to buildings

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spencer ma water emergency

Spencer, MA Water Emergency

April 25-28, 2007

Presented by Spencer Fire Chief

Robert P. Parsons

spencer ma
Spencer, MA
  • Community of 13,000 residents
  • 35 Square miles in size
  • Full time private EMS
  • Call Fire Department
  • Roughly 1700 water connections to buildings
  • Roughly 4000 citizens on the water system
  • 6 schools have town water (regional school district) (one school located in East Brookfield)
  • Numerous restaurants and other businesses
water emergency
Water Emergency
  • First calls received by the Spencer Police Dispatch were at 0633hrs. Two calls were received simultaneously. One for 2 Main St and the second at 200 Main St. Symptoms were burning skin and rashes. Both after taking showers. A distance of roughly 11/2 miles.
  • Initial responses were by Spencer Ambulances and local mutual aid ambulances
  • 0648 hrs Water Department paged, Police officers on scene reporting a strong smell to the water like chlorine and a film on the victims.
  • Water Dept employees investigating at the plant found an internal alarm for high levels of PH going off. Immediately went out to flush hydrants.
  • Police advised the victims were trying to RINSE OFF THE FILM WITH COLD TAP WATER!!!
more calls
More calls
  • I was advised of a possible issue @ 0713hrs. 0757hrs I responded to town and advised of another call at 12 High St.
  • EMS personnel were rinsing the victims off with sterile water and quickly running out.
  • Fire Department personnel dispatched to the station to bring bottle water to the ambulances.
mobile decon unit
Mobile Decon Unit
  • 0812hrs The Town of Southbridge Fire (County control Point) was requested to notify the Town of Northbridge Fire for the MA Fire District 7 MDU to respond
board of health
Board of Health
  • 0821hrs Requested to be notified by the Fire Chief.
  • Spencer Health Agent was on vacation, needing to notify the Leicester Board of Health Agent which was covering for Spencer. She was paged once and did not call in until the afternoon, she was not notified of the seriousness of the incident.
  • Board of Health clerks misunderstood the seriousness of the situation and did not make the needed notifications as quickly as they should have.
0847hrs MCI declared by Fire Chief. 4 more EMS calls received by Police Dispatch. Requested 10 ambulances to stage at the Spencer Fire Station.
  • 0848hrs notified the Clinical Supervisor for Spencer Rescue at work to respond. Requested additional crews from SRS be brought into work. Call personnel.
  • EOC established at the fire station. State of Emergency declared by Local Officials.
sodium hydroxide
Sodium Hydroxide
  • 0848hrs Water Department personnel advised Chief Parsons and Sgt Agnew of an inadvertent increase of Sodium Hydroxide into the water system when a valve was left in the incorrect position. We received notification of the chemical approximately 2 hours after Water Department employees were aware of the issue at the plant.
  • We now knew it was not an intentional act and was a system failure.
the chemical involved
The chemical involved
  • Synonyms: Caustic soda; lye; sodium hydroxide solid; sodium hydrate CAS No.: 1310-73-2 Molecular Weight: 40.00 Chemical Formula: NaOH
  • Ingestion:Corrosive! Swallowing may cause severe burns of mouth, throat, and stomach. Severe scarring of tissue and death may result. Symptoms may include bleeding, vomiting, diarrhea, fall in blood pressure. Damage may appear days after exposure.
  • Skin Contact:Corrosive! Contact with skin can cause irritation or severe burns and scarring with greater exposures.
potential of victims
Potential of Victims

Potential for victims was huge. Possibly thousands could have been affected.

Water Department was unsure how much of the chemical was in the system and where.

initial notifications
Initial Notifications
  • By 0912hrs announcements were now being made over all town radio channels.
  • Town Hall staff was notifying food establishments in town.
  • Dental and Doctors offices
  • Sent fax to all media outlets to announce to “DO NOT USE THE WATER”
ics and nims
  • Unified command Staff.
  • Multiple locations
  • Multiple disciplines and Agencies
  • Was it useful or not?? Who did better than others??
staging areas
Staging areas
  • Ambulance staging areas.
  • Dirty versus clean ambulances
  • Where could we get them from
  • When did we change our mode of mutual aid responses
  • Who did 911 EMS calls

outside the incident

additional notifications
Additional Notifications
  • Sign boards placed on each town line for Route 9 and 31.
  • Placed on the town’s web site and cable access.
  • Utility and Facility personnel and Sheriff’s Dept going door to door with flyers
  • 4 flyers in total were sent out over the event. Schools were utilized for notifications through flyers.
decontamination in eb
Decontamination in EB
  • Originally set up Gross Decontamination until the MDU arrived from Northbridge Fire.
  • Fire District 8 MDU requested-issue
  • Massachusetts Department of Fire Services MDU sent-issue
  • Spare MDU sent from Fire District 11
Anyone with symptoms sent to East Brookfield for triage and then decontamination
  • Priorities sent directly to Saint Vincent’s Hospital in the City of Worcester and decontamination accomplished with The City of Worcester Fire’s MDU.
massachusetts department of fire services
Massachusetts Department of Fire Services
  • Incident Support unit @ Spencer Fire MDU@ East Brookfield Fire Department
  • Rehab unit@ East Brookfield Fire
  • Tier 1 Haz mat@ East Brookfield FD
massachusetts emergency management agency
Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency
  • Assisted with Bottled Water deliveries (assigned State Police escorts) (Multiple sources needed to meet the demand)
  • Hand Sanitizer from CVS Pharmacies donated
  • Sign Boards
  • Light Towers
  • Local EMA handled rehab at all sites, food distribution and handing out water and flyers
press conferences
Press Conferences
  • First one issued at 1130hrs at the Spencer Rescue Squad. Located behind the fire and police stations. All disciplines present to answer questions to local and national media.
  • Doing fine with original ambulances out of The City Of Worcester and local EMS.
  • At 1pm EMS units unable to keep up with requests. Two ambulance task forces were requested to respond to Spencer From Fire District’s 10 and 11. Split EMS units between Spencer Fire and East Brookfield Fire.
ems task forces
EMS task forces
  • A total of 6 ambulance task forces were used. 36 EMS private companies or Municipal EMS providers responded to the requests.


  • A total of 105 patients were transported to area hospitals.
  • 145 were seen at triage
  • 1 still recovering from serious burns to her digestive tract
fire departments
Fire Departments
  • 14 Fire Departments were involved in the incident.
  • Town of Leicester Engine Company and Tender from Spencer covered calls during the event.
  • Two Structural Strike Forces from Fire District 7 were used to man the Spencer and East Brookfield Stations through the night and they manned decontamination areas. One reported building fire during the night in Spencer.
lessons learned
Lessons Learned
  • Community needs some mechanism to alert the public in a more expeditious manner.
  • Utilizing a larger circle of local ambulances first.
  • Clerk to be a scribe to write everything down
  • Greater need for female Emergency Medical Technician’s or Firefighters for the Mobile Decontamination Unit’s.
Some department’s that have taken NIMS or ICS have no real concept of it
  • Need mutual aid agreements for Emergency Management agencies to cross lines.
  • Paperwork at decontamination needs to be more complete
  • Better tracking of victims that came through decontamination.
  • More command staff in the beginning of the incident
Not enough soap in Mobile Decon Unit’s
  • MDU’s showed up in non working condition
  • Northbridge Fire crews excellent helping with the MDU’s
  • Needed portable toilets for both locations
  • Feminine hygiene products at decon
  • Many complaints of uneasiness disrobing at decon
Needed Public Information Officer’s at both locations
  • Spencer Dispatch not notified of all things happening at locations.
  • Weather cooperated
  • Door to door Flyers worked but a lot of work-shoe leather express
  • Town’s web site and local cable access worked well
EMA had some agreements for food. Need a LOT more outside our community.
  • Changing staff at both sites needed time to work everyone in and get them familiar with the MDU’s and decon
  • Should of called Mass Corp of Fire Chaplains for people psychological aspects
  • Critical Incident Stress Management personnel for first responders
  • Better security at both sites.
  • Communications with all sites
  • This was an incident that had never presented itself in Massachusetts.
  • First Time ever that the Massachusetts statewide ambulance task forces were used.
  • The event lasted three days until the water was back to “Normal”
blue ribbon commission
Blue Ribbon Commission
  • Town brought in 5 independent people to review our response and provide a “After Action Report”.
  • A Generalist, a Water Resource Discipline, a Town Administrator of another community, a water user in Spencer, and an outside EMS person.
  • After Action Report was completed September of 2007.
  • Using the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program, “Performed with some challenges, but adequately”
link to the blue ribbon commission report
Link to the Blue Ribbon Commission report.

http://www.spencerma.gov/tile.ez?pageId=3471&actionName=display&from=page or go to www.spencerma.gov and lick on the link for “Hot News”