Chemical companies have a reputation for being places where catastrophic events, such as fires, explosions and chemical releases, can happen. Sometimes, though, "little" emergencies can occur that may not have widespread impact but are just as critical for an individual or a small group.
The emergency response (ER) team at Chevron Phillips Chemical's Cedar Bayou plant in Baytown, Texas, was ready last summer when a visitor suffered a heart attack. What made the incident unusual was that the person, O.J. Alvarez, is an OSHA inspector who was onsite for the plant's Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Star recertification process.
Alvarez was wrapping up his visit with part of the plant's VPP committee, which also has several members on the ER team, when he collapsed in a conference room. Among those in the room and ready to help was Roy Oliver, a polyethylene unit operator and an ER team member.
"It wasn't a coincidence that we had emergency responders in his presence," said Oliver, who serves as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and is one of two ER team captains on each shift. "We're scattered throughout the plant. Chances are we'll be near someone if something happens."
Not only were ER team members close by to provide Alvarez with definitive care that helped save his life, but cardiac equipment was within a few feet, and an advanced cardiac life support ambulance was in the fire house about 200 feet away.
Even though a facility may go for long stretches without an emergency, responders have to be ready to spring into action at a moment's notice. "You have to be prepared for the emergency when it happens," said Doug Drawhorn, the safety, fire and health supervisor. "Emergencies can't be scheduled."
Chevron Phillips' Cedar Bayou plant, which employs as many as 900 workers and covers about 1,000 acres, produces olefins and polyethylene used to manufacture basic chemicals and plastics.
At least 10 of 60 ER team members work during any shift, said Oliver, who can fill in as a fire safety specialist. Each shift has at least one fire safety specialist who serves as an incident commander for an emergency and no fewer than three Texas Department of Health-recognized emergency medical service professionals, who have EMT and paramedic training. The rest are trained to be first responders for any emergency.
While onshift personnel handle practically every emergency that occurs, additional ER team members can be called in for large-scale situations, Drawhorn said. If the emergency is larger than the total brigade can manage, Cedar Bayou is a member of two mutual aid organizations with nearby chemical facilities in a remote area on the outskirts of Baytown.
Training is a key element of emergency response preparation. Conventional training calls for different personnel to have different responsibilities. For example, ER team members may be trained to handle hazardous material releases but not confined-space rescues.
At Cedar Bayou, however, all ER team members are cross-trained to handle any emergency, whether it be a fire, a rescue from an elevated location or a heart attack. Cross training is why the plant's ER team was able to give Alvarez immediate medical care. If Oliver did not have EMT training, for example, he would have had to locate someone else to treat Alvarez.
Because every second counts in an emergency, having an ER team member close by and ready to help with any kind of emergency can mean the difference between life and death, said Doug Pope, one of six fire safety specialists at the plant and a certified paramedic.
"If we didn't train every team member the same, when an incident happened, we'd have to do a roll call to see who is there who can do some good," Pope said. "Whoever shows up, they are ready to go."
In addition to saving time, cross training ER team members also can help keep a facility in compliance, Pope said. "If you send the wrong person into a hot zone, that person gets hurt and OSHA finds out about it, you're in big trouble. It's better to go ahead and train that person."
The facility's cross training is part of its emergency response certification program that has been in place for about five years. The program, which ensures consistent training for each responder, requires commitment from a company and its employees because of extra time needed for responders to train and remain prepared for a variety of emergencies.
First-year ER team training includes a 40-hour basic firefighter course, first responder training similar to that available from the American Red Cross, 40 hours of hazmat training, four hours of basic heavy-rescue training and four one-day ER training sessions. Responders obtain additional training each year thereafter, including at least one offsite ER class, to stay current with any certifications and to broaden their skills.
When it comes to rescuing one or a few workers, there may be few better facilities than Chevron Phillips' Cedar Bayou. For the past three years, the plant has produced the World Champion Industrial Rescue Team by winning the International Rescue and Emergency Care Association heavy-rescue competition. Heavy rescue includes situations such as confined spaces and high angles on towers.
To sharpen rescue skills, ER team members train a minimum of 24 hours a year. One such training session in early June involved high-angle rescue drills using ladders, ropes and baskets to raise and lower injured workers.
With rescue situations especially, training needs to be ongoing because skills can deteriorate if not used. That's why fellow workers at the plant do not mind taking on extra tasks when ER team members train, Pope said. "Others not on our team have seen us in action and want us to be as good as we can be in case it's them we're coming after."