WINNEMUCCA — High stakes chemicals are not of the usual concerns for first responders in their daily work, but have to be in a community that is home to booming industries that handle all sorts of serious materials. The first responders in Humboldt County participated in a safety drill with Cyanco—one of the leading mineral extraction chemical manufacturers in the nation— to improve the comprehensive skills and reaction capabilities of both Cyanco and the local first responders. According to Cyanco, the drill presented an opportunity for environmental, health, and safety professionals in Winnemucca to experience a real-life scenario with which they would be responsible for in a true emergency situation, if one were to occur.

“What we are going to showcase is the incident-command structure, which is a requirement by OSHA— Occupational Safety and Health Administration—and EPA—Environmental Protection Agency— and FEMA—Federal Emergency Management Agency— that shows the steps of who you’re communicating with on our side, as well as the local emergency management offices. We will demonstrate a containment spill, which means going out donning hazmat suits, using containment sucks to control the leakage, and then absorbing it up and disposing of it,” said Cyanco’s Director of Environmental Health, Safety and Security, Scott Williams, in a meeting before the training drill. 

In the event of an accident or emergency, “the number one priority is the safety of the workers, of the community, focusing on the environment, and getting everything contained,” added the Chief Operating Officer for Cyanco, Michele Duttlinger. 

When asked why the safety drill is important, Duttlinger said “It is actually critical and it’s something we hope we never need. If you don’t practice some of these skills, you get a little bit rusty and the exercise that we’re conducting is not only amongst our team, but bringing in the local emergency services. We’re building that relationship, helping that connectivity, and making sure everyone understands what their part is during a time where it’s a controlled situation.” 

The first responders in Winnemucca would be pivotal figures in the event of an accidental exposure or chemical spill, so it is exceedingly important that they be well-versed in the protocol for such an event.

Torrey Sheen, the Winnemucca Rural Fire Department Chief, said “Winnemucca Rural Fire Department feels we need to participate in these types of training to be ready if we really have to face a hazardous material spill. This training gives us the opportunity to work with other agencies to find out what works and what doesn’t.”

Jordan Kohler, Deputy Chief of Operations for Humboldt General Hospital (HGH) Emergency Medical Services(EMS) Rescue explained that HGH EMS will provide the hazmat, emergency medical services, and Incident Command System support on the drill scene and that the HGH Emergency Room will simulate an instance where they receive a patient that has been exposed to hazardous materials and do a full technical decontamination. 

She said “This will be a great opportunity for our organization to work with internal and external partners within the community. The drill has been a long time coming due to COVID setbacks.”

Although there were no actual chemicals and no actual emergency, the teams had to suit up in hazmat attire, and handle the drill as if it were a dire emergency, according to Cyanco officials. 

Cyanco provides the sodium cyanide that the mining industry uses to extract gold and silver from ore. The cyanide is manufactured, stored, and transported through Cyanco, which was originally purposed to service the greater Nevada area, but now is a leading global supplier of sodium cyanide. It is transported by cargo ship, to other global customers, by train, to far distances across America, but in Winnemucca, it is simply transported on secure tanker trucks, according to Cyanco officials. The cyanide is also unpacked by almost entirely automated means, with trained individuals having only to hook a hose up to a tanker to begin the offloading process in most cases, according to Duttlinger, which greatly reduces safety risks for both Cyanco’s team, and their customers. The dangers of the chemical have reduced significantly over the years and continue to be reduced as the practice safety procedures and the industry field advances its technology, Duttlinger explained. 

“It’s how you handle and how you use the chemical that can be an issue. If you make sure everyone is well trained and people understand the hazards and make sure that you have the right equipment and you use it for the intended purpose, it is very safe. It’s when you have someone who isn’t qualified that is in contact that accidents could potentially happen. That’s why it’s important for us to make sure that anybody we’re working with is trained,” Duttlinger made clear, and “I want people to have that sense of security that if something were to happen, everyone would be protected, the environment would be protected, and that we’re doing everything that we can to prevent something from ever happening.”

As the qualifications and training of individual personnel is critically important to the proper handling of hazardous chemicals, Winnemucca offers the most suitable pool of people to hire, as many have experience or knowledge with high stakes work. 

“Coming into Winnemucca specifically, the closeness and comradery in the industry has been wonderful,” and “Location-wise, this is the heart of the gold mining industry,” said Duttlinger, who also explained that the location of the plant in Winnemucca gives the company the ability to provide convenient and quality service to their customers and provides the best workers. A drill such as this is conducted to assure the safety and security of the environment, as well as all of the hard-working individuals and families that live in the community. 

“A lot of this regulatory, but Cyanco is a part of this community and we want to show that we are good stewards of the environment, we’re protecting the community, and we’re also protecting our customers and making sure our product can be transferred from A to B without any issues,” said Willaims.