DRASH Supports Search and Rescue Efforts Following Power Plant Explosion

DRASH shelters at the scene of the Kleen Energy Systems plant explosion (AP Photo/Jessica Hill).

+ View High-Res Photo

MIDDLETOWN, CT – On February 7, 2010, an explosion at the Kleen Energy Systems plant in Middletown, Connecticut killed five workers and left many more injured. The blast, which took place during a test of natural gas lines running through the nearly finished facility, could be felt and heard by residents for miles.

Faced with the task of searching the heavily-damaged plant, responders quickly went into action. Personnel from Middletown’s Office of Emergency Management and the state’s Department of Public Health set up two DRASH shelters to support efforts.

“When I arrived about 45 minutes after the initial explosion, the incident commander was using the back of his specially equipped SUV as a command post,” says Len Guercia, Operations Branch Chief of the Connecticut DPH. “But when the sun went down and strong winds began to kick in, it became untenable to continue to work outside. Once we got the shelters up and heat running, they became invaluable to our operations during those first 24 hours.”

Rescue workers organized and executed operations from a 249 square foot DRASH 3XB Shelter, which, booted to a fire command vehicle, served as an incident command post at the scene of the explosion. Government officials also received their first briefing inside the command post.

Nearby, workers were briefed inside a 413 square foot DRASH 6XB Shelter. The shelter was later converted to a forward observational area and sleeping quarters for rapid intervention and security forces who remained on site for the next two weeks.

The Connecticut Department of Public Health purchased the DRASH shelters in 2005 as part of the Ottilie W. Lundgren Mobile Field Hospital – the first state field hospital in the country. Since then, responders have used parts of the 14,000 square foot hospital during emergencies and exercises across the state.

“Once again, our mobile hospital has demonstrated its utility. Even though we were not called to support medical operations at the explosion scene, our shelters were able to support the rescue workers, law enforcement personnel and federal inspectors who responded to the incident. The shelters have definitely proven their versatility,” says Guercia.