Team trains to face slippery foe
By Lance Cpl. Brian Kester
| | June 11, 2004
MCRD/ERR PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. --
On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez grounded on Bligh Reef and spilled nearly 11 million gallons of oil into the waters of Prince William Sound, Alaska. The effects felt from that catastrophe have been reverberating ever since.
Preventing similar catastrophes is why a Facilities Response Team is assembled and trained every year to react to the situations that call for their services.
The Parris Island Fire Department is utilized as a 24-hour first response team, Natural Resources personnel apply their knowledge about the environment, and WFTBn. provides boats and mechanics to get the whole operation moving.
"No one outfit here has enough people to be able to do a whole response operation," said Jim Clark, environmental coordinator. "Therefore, in order for the command to be compliant, we have to draw from a number of different units to be able to field a first-response operation."
The team has been training to learn the tendencies of and perfect the ability to corral and remove oil slicks or other chemical spills that may occur in the waters of the local area.
Bill Woodward, senior project manager and instructor for Tageson Maritime, ran the training scenarios and trained the team using, "Hands-on, on-water training."
"Every base has a Facilities Response Team," he said. "We want to be able to comply with common law, and to be able to respond for immediate and effective oil spill removal."
The team used Sorbents pads to simulate an oil spill in the waters of Battery Creek.
Woodward placed these pads, which only soak up oil, into the water and the team's mission was to control and contain the simulated spill.
Using hand signals and radio communication, the crews positioned themselves behind the simulated spill with a 600-foot containment boom in tow.
That boom, equipped with an underwater skirt, will float on the waters surface and act as a barrier to the oil.
Using the boom, the boats attach a line at each end and pull, forming a "U," to catch the oil slick as it sits atop the water's surface.
Taking into consideration the speed of the water's movement and the speed of the boats, the team will then pull the spill to shore where a skimmer, acting like a vacuum, will remove the contaminant from the water.
"We are out there trying to protect the environment," said Woodward. "This is the only environment we have. The water that is out there now is the only water that has ever been."
No one has ever created one single drop of new water, it just gets recycled over and over by the environment, he added.
Personnel who participated in the training harbor that feeling of respect for the environment.
"If somebody sees a spill, it is their job to report it to the environmental office or the fire department, and not say, 'that's not my problem, I didn't do it,'" said Cynthia Zapotoczny, environmental protection specialist with Natural Resources. "We can't be everywhere on the base all of the time, so we need people to call us."
That sentiment is mutually applicable to anyone who fishes or even likes to eat seafood.
"I like to get out there and fish, shrimp and everything else, but if there is nothing but oil out in the water, everything would be ruined," said Staff Sgt. Scott Hassellback, WFTBn. staff NCO in charge of the Small Craft Section.
For more information on environmental awareness, visit the Environmental Protection Agency on-line at www.epa.gov/oilspill; to re-port a spill call 911.