Chemical Defense Training Facility evacuation only precautionary
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Posted: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 3:38 pm
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (March 11, 2009) — Students in certain courses at Fort Leonard Wood’s chemical school learn to make smoke to obscure battlefields and confuse enemies.
However, chemical soldiers aren’t usually making smoke in their own buildings and setting off fire alarms.
Fort Leonard Wood workers and residents driving by the Chemical Defense Training Facility on Wednesday morning may have been startled to see the building surrounded by fire trucks and people evacuating. However, a press release from the post assured area residents that there’s no need to fear: the problem was a malfunctioning overhead projector in the administration building.
“The fire department responded within five minutes and determined the projector was the cause of the smoke in a meeting room,” according to a press release.
Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Sheeley said evacuation of the building lasted about five minutes, and due to the outside weather conditions, building occupants were transferred to another building where it was warm.
“There was no damage to the building and the projector is being turned in for maintenance to determine the cause of the smoke,” according to the press release.
The Chemical Defense Training Facility is one of Fort Leonard Wood’s most heavily secured locations because it’s one of only two places in the United States where personnel go to test the effectiveness of their gas masks and chemical protection gear against the lethal nerve agents VX and GB, which is also called sarin. The other is at the former location of the chemical school at Fort McClellan outside Anniston, Ala., which is now used for similar chemical training by the Department of Justice.
The CDTF was built just a decade ago when the base realignment and closure process closed Fort Fort Leonard Wood. In a Defenselink article written after its construction, John Morrissey, then the CDTF’s deputy director, explained that all staff members carry gas masks at their sides, and as the doors close behind people entering the facility, they feel a “woosh” of air rushing in around them, drawn in by the building’s negative pressure.
“The doors are sealed by air pressure and magnetic locks,” according to the article. “The facility is redundancy at its best. Every safety system has a backup and a backup to the backup.”
“Because of the way we handle everything, there’s a greater risk of heat injury than there is of contamination,” Morrissey said.
The facility is designed to handle much more serious problems than a minor projector fire. In addition to 18 separate air filters, constant testing of the air inside and outside the building, several backup electric power supply systems, and three different communication systems, the CDTF “hot zone” that contains nerve agents is “a large dome made of foot-thick reinforced concrete” that is a “tornado-proof” building within a building, according to the Defenselink article.
“It would take quite a series of disasters to cause a problem, but we like to be sure,” Morrissey said, noting that the facility is even located “where prevailing winds blow toward unpopulated areas, just in case of an unimaginable disaster.”
While the building affected Wednesday is part of the Chemical Defense Training Facility, it isn’t in the part of the facility that contains nerve agents.
“The administration building is not used to store any hazardous materials and there was no danger to occupants or the public at any time,” according to the Fort Leonard Wood press release.