Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

December 7, 2012

Drilling for disaster

Responders prep for dangers caused by meth labs

Mike James
The Independent

CANNONSBURG — The wounds and bandages were simulated Friday during a disaster drill for Boyd County emergency forces, but they represented a very real danger.

Firefighters, medics and hospital workers, assisted by students at the Boyd County Career and Technical Education Center, practiced their response to an explosion caused by an makeshift meth lab, commonly called “shake and bake.”

During the drill they practiced assessment and treatment of injuries and decontamination of hazardous materials. Above all, they refined their ability to coordinate their jobs with one another, said Richard Cyrus, who is chief of the Cannonsburg Fire Department and safe schools director for the Boyd County district.

 The choice of scenarios was deliberate, Cyrus said.

 Shake and bake refers to a method for making methamphetamine, an illegal and highly addictive drug widely used in the region.

Drug users typically make small batches of meth in a two-liter bottle using common household ingredients, such as antifreeze and drain cleaner, along with pseudoephedrine, a cold remedy.

Mixing the ingredients generates heat, pressure and highly volatile fumes. A batch can explode and shower bystanders with hot, caustic chemicals. The fumes can cause chemical burns to lung tissue.

In addition, meth makers often will start the process, put the bottle into a small backpack and leave it at a roadside to cook. They do so to lessen their chances of being caught with the materials and charged with manufacturing meth, which is a felony. They return to retrieve the meth after the reaction process is completed.

For Friday’s drill, emergency officials posed the question of what would happen if a shake-and-bake meth lab blew up at a school.

The bottle of chemicals might get there in a car, say a relative’s vehicle brought in by one of the technical school’s auto body students. If another student opened or disturbed the bottle out of curiosity, the resulting discharge could injure or even kill multiple students.

The students who portrayed casualties are enrolled in nurse aide and principles of health science classes. During the exercise they learn the principles of triage — the emergency procedure of assessing injuries in order to treat the most severe first, said Kim Grubb, teacher of the health sciences class.

They also learned enough about the meth issue to know what to do if they see suspicious materials, said Missy Nichols, who teaches the nurse aide class.

They should do what she told her own children at home, Nichol said: Stay away from it and report it.

A meth explosion also requires extensive decontamination, both to the people exposed and the premises. Had the incident been real, authorities would have had to evacuate the school and treated that section of the building.

It is a growing problem, said Boyd County Emergency Medical Service director Tom Adams. “We see more every day,” he said. “People shake it and then throw it out to let it bake, then they come back for it. In the meantime, it builds up pressure and someone could find it,” he said.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.