85th Civil Support Team Plays Key Role in Response to Layton Hazardous-Gas Incident

 

By Ileen Kennedy

 

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Published February 17, 2010

 

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Members of the 85th Civil Support Team and Layton City Fire confer before entering the Toone home to check for phosophine gas Feb. 8.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

Members of the 85th Civil Support Team and Layton City Fire confer before entering the Toone home to check for phosphine gas Feb. 8.

LAYTON, Utah —The Utah National Guard’s 85th Civil Support Team assisted local authorities Feb. 7-9 to identify the poisonous gas that may have taken the life of 4-year-old Rebecca Toone and her 15-month-old sister Rachel.

The Toone family called Layton Fire Department Feb. 5 when their carbon monoxide detector alarm sounded. Questar checked the house for a CO leak but detected no such fumes, and fire officials cleared the house for occupancy.

Back in their home Feb. 6, Toone family members began to feel sick. Late that night Rebecca was found unconscious and was rushed to Davis County Hospital, where she later died. Sister Rachel was placed in intensive care at Primary Children’s Medical Center in extremely critical condition, while other family members were treated and released.

Layton authorities contacted the 85th Civil Support Team Feb. 7 for assistance in investigating the incident and to identfiying the suspected source of the toxin, which was believed to be phosphine gas from pellets buried next to the house two days earlier by a local pest-control company to eliminate a rodent problem in the Toone home.

Members of the 85th Civil Support Team prepare to enter the Toone home to provide ventilation to help dissipate phosphine gas accumulation.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

SSG Brett Campbell, lefts, and SFC Shaine Richards prepare to enter the Toone home to provide ventilation to dissipate phosphine accumulations.

"Our readings told us that there was a gas in the house, but we didn’t have the sensor specific to phosphine." said LTC Tyler Smith, commander of the 85th. "Based on the chemical applied, victim symptomology and various instrument readings, phosphine was the suspected agent. We immediately ordered phosphine sensors from our supply center which were shipped overnight so we could be meticulously thorough."

"We were dealing with a phosphine gas inside the residence," confirmed Capt Kevin Larsen, operations officer for the 85th CST. "We had some pretty significant readings inside."

1LT Spencer Marsh, 85th CST survey team leader, briefed the team prior to their entering the premises Feb. 8.

"We had a four-man team entry go in: two fire[fighters] from Layton and two CST," explained Marsh. "Layton Fire set up water buckets and excavated the pellets. The CST members made entry into the house, verified readings of previous entries and emplaced fans throughout the house in order to ventilate."

85th CST members check phosphine levels in the entryway of the Toone home Feb. 8.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

85th CST members SSG Brett Campbell, left, and SFC Shaine Richards check phosphine levels in the entryway of the Toone home Feb. 8.

The two firefighters worked outside to eradicate the source of the gas under the concrete by digging it up and putting it in buckets full of water. The two CST members entered the residence and ventilated the property by opening windows, doors, cupboards and closets and then set up fans throughout the home.

"We wanted to make sure we got down under the concrete" continued Spencer. "The [pest-control] technician put it about six to eight inches under. The goal was to fill the trench with water and let it off-gas from that point. Once the ground was saturated with water it neutralized the pellets."

Members of the 85th CST continued to monitor levels of phosphine inside the home, garage, along the cement driveway and sidewalk, as well as the yards of adjacent homes. When the Toone home was tested for gas levels Feb. 7, their instruments read levels averaging 30 parts per million throughout the home. Fifty parts per million is considered deadly, explained Smith.

"The garage is where we had the highest concentration [of phosphine]," said Smith.

Authorities believe that the pellets, emitting phosphine gas, seeped through various cracks and crevices in the construction, accumulating in the attached garage and rising to the girls’ bedrooms directly above the garage.

Layton firefighters dig up phosphine gas-emitting pellets placed under the driveway by an exterminator.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

Layton firefighters dig up phosphine gas-emitting

pellets placed under the driveway by an exterminator.

The CST recorded the phosphine gas level at the front-door opening and then in various rooms within the residence. Throughout the ventilation process they reverified the reading to watch for change. After allowing the house to ventilate for a few hours, members of the 85th recorded additional readings.

All windows and doors to the residence were then closed and the house was left to sit sealed overnight. On the morning of Feb. 8, additional readings were again recorded and the house was deemed clear of the presence of phosphine gas. Smith informed the Davis County health department of their findings and left to county officials the decision on whether or not to clear the house for occupancy.

"My team is highly trained and has more specialized equipment then an average hazmat team," said Smith. "Hazmat is not an additional duty for us like it is for firefighters, who have to be proficient in many other areas. We specialize in chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive agents and situations. We are organized in a way that we support civil authorities."

During a situation such as this, where there is a deadly gas that could pose a possible threat to team members, the CST has on location a physician’s assistant (PA), Maj. Larry Carpenter, who monitors team members as they work downrange and keeps track of incident victims at local hospitals.

Major Larry Carpenter, left, monitors the vital signs of an 85th CST member after the member exited a hazardous-chemical environment.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

Major Larry Carpenter, left, monitors the vital signs of SFC Shaine Richards after Richards exited a hazardous-chemical environment.

"On any of these kinds of scenes, whether it’s a training scenario or real world like this, 25 percent of the time my job is to make sure our guys are healthy and medically fit to go down range," said Carpenter. "If anyone gets hurt, I take care of them. The other 75 percent of the time I spend coordinating between local EMS and communicate with the local hospitals to find out if there are people who have been exposed."

"Based on their signs and symptoms, where they were at the time of exposure, and any lab data, I come up with a differential and say, ‘OK, if they were exposed to something seven days ago and now they are having symptoms, it’s a biological agent and they’ve been exposed to a bacteria or a toxin,’" explained Carpenter. "If it is immediate onset, then I know that it’s chemical. So I coordinate the signs and symptoms with whatever is going on in their bloodstream, and I try to come up with a differential as to what [the agent] probably is."

Carpenter also works closely with 85th CST science officer Maj. Jared Gailey to identify the type of agent they are dealing with.

"I work with Maj. Gailey very closely," said Carpenter. "I take all my signs, symptoms, lab data and my differential and attach it to whatever his science brain says it has to be. We then correlate so we have angles from two different locations indicating it is exactly this type of agent."

Layton firefighters and 85th CST members discuss mitigation procedures in the command trailer Feb. 8.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

Layton firefighters and 85th CST members discuss

mitigation procedures in the command trailer Feb. 8.

On Sunday, when the CST team members used the photo ionization detector to test the home, they were able to identify various levels of phosphine gas inside both the garage and residence.

"In this case, as soon as we had a positive ID for phosphine, I contacted the hospital to let them know," said Carpenter. "They need to know so they can monitor and change their treatment for anyone they have in the hospital."

Once the residence was given a final clear Feb. 9, the 85th turned over the investigation of the fatal gas leak to the Davis County health department.

"We’re confident that the risk from the chemical has been cleared," said Bob Ballew, spokesman for Davis County Health Department.