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On one hand, the Minot Fire Department’s recent training exercise at the Roosevelt Park Zoo could be considered a structure fire. On the other hand, the zoo provides unique challenges that could include working around dangerous animals.
Battalion Chief Jason Babinchak said the zoo’s veterinarian, Dr. Logan Wood, approached the Fire Department to conduct a training exercise at the zoo, but wanted something more than something like basic fire extinguisher training.
“He invited us to take a look around the zoo with a fresh set of eyes, and from that visit we came up with this larger scale exercise,” Babinchak said. “The zoo is kind of a gated community within the city, and they have potential hazards and unique features that we don’t always encounter. We wanted incorporate some of that into this exercise.”
For this training, Babinchak said the call came in as an explosion and smoke from a building, with two zoo employees unaccounted for and an animal that was in the process of having surgery.
“We didn’t know what type of animal we were dealing with, so there’s the potential for a dangerous animal,” Babinchak said.
After receiving the simulated call, firefighters encountered their first twist. Which gate should they use to enter the zoo?
To make it easier for their employees, zoo officials refer to the facility’s multiple entrance/exit gates by names like “bear gate” or “tiger gate” instead of using letters or numbers. That works well for zoo employees, but during an emergency, first responders don’t necessarily know where the “bear gate” is without more directional detail.
“This exercise was focused on communication, and that’s where communication came into play right away,” Babinchak said. “Our people and the other agencies don’t necessarily know where the “bear gate” is located. We discussed that with Dr. Wood and we kind of left all the agencies in the dark. We wanted some stumbling blocks as a learning experience.”
Once firefighters were on the scene of the simulated structure fire, they located the fire and knocked it down. Then a search team located and evacuated the two zoo employees inside the building. Then they dealt with another purposeful twist.
The animal having surgery was a kangaroo. Fire crews located the animal, which was still under the effects of anesthesia, and contained it to a secure room. Then crews ventilated the building before they allowed zoo staff to safely enter the building to assist the animal.
“The zoo staff understands that our first priority is human life, and then protecting property and the animals,” Babinchak said. “They don’t necessarily like that, because it’s their responsibility to protect their animals. But they understand that the best way to protect everyone, including the animals, is for us to get in the building and mitigate the fire, which solves most of the problem.”
In this scenario, the two zoo employees were safely rescued; the kangaroo was safely evacuated, too.
There was plenty to learn from the drill, and both Babinchak and Wood are working on after action reviews that will be combined and distributed to all the agencies involved. One positive discovery was that the zoo uses an incident command system, much like the Fire Department does.
“Now we know if there’s an incident at the zoo, we would get our incident commander and their incident commander together in a vehicle to coordinate everyone’s efforts,” Babinchak said. “They have unique insights to things that we don’t know, and we can help them understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. We can work together to make sure everyone is safe while we mitigate the emergency. This is called Unified Command.”
For everyone involved, the training was a success. Both the Fire Department and the zoo staff found issues that they’ll work on improving, but overall everyone was satisfied with the results.
“We were impressed with them having an incident command system, and they were great in directing us to the proper gate and guiding us to the building on fire,” Babinchak said. “They know the zoo grounds better than we do, so they can help evacuate the zoo if necessary and keep people away from the danger area. That allows us to focus on the emergency.”