Fire drill sheds light on real thing

As smoke from a fake fire billowed up from the woodlands below Ridge Road, Ashland firefighters moved into position to fend off the mock disaster, while Community Emergency Response Team members practiced evacuating a neighborhood in an emergency situation.

Katharine Danner, a CERT volunteer, and the four other members of Team Echo went door-to-door on Terrace Street to run through what would be their responsibility if a real emergency situation were to hit Ashland. About 50 of the more than 200 CERT volunteers in Ashland mobilized for Monday's training drill, said CERT coordinator Lucy Edwards.

"We're doing an emergency drill," Danner told a Terrace Street resident as she and her CERT team approached his front door. "We encourage you, if you are interested, to try evacuating. Your evacuation route is Gresham, Sherman or Morton Streets."

Ashland firefighters often engage in such training exercises involving phony fires and fake disasters, but Monday was the first time the entire community was involved, from city administration to city residents.

Police officers, department heads and city councilors met in the council chambers at 1175 E. Main St. to declare a mock state of emergency. With Mayor John Morrison unavailable, City Council President Russ Silbiger served as acting mayor for the drill. He explained that in a real disaster situation &

be it a fire, a flood, or another emergency &

the council's role is to declare a state of emergency.

"We seem to have everything under control," he said, as he took a break from the emergency exercise taking place in the council chambers. This part of the drill was closed to the public so that the city could work out its difficulties in private, Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness said.

"Confusion is part of it," Silbiger said. "There is no such thing as not having confusion in this kind of situation. It's how you deal with the confusion that matters."

Ashland Fire and Rescue Chief Keith Woodley said some aspects of the drill, such as radio communications, went awry. This, he said, helps to better recreate the atmosphere of an actual emergency.

"All of the things that would normally go wrong in an actual emergency, went wrong in the exercise," he said. "So we pretty effectively recreated a wildland fire."

As the city worked out some of the kinks in its emergency plan, so did some residents of the Ridge Road neighborhood.

"The most unsettling part is running around getting ready," said Doug Gentry, a Long Way resident who participated in the drill by practicing evacuating his home. His wife has previous practice in such events, from when she had to evacuate her California home during the Oakland Hills fire.

"We have a pretty good idea of what we would take," Gentry said. "A box of important papers, the hard drives to our computers, family photos and the pets!"

Rather than evacuate his 85-pound dog, Gentry took a stuffed-toy version instead to the evacuation reception area at the Grove, next to the council chambers.

Chris Dodson, of Ridge Road, also practiced evacuating and timed herself to see how long it would take to collect a group of belongings very similar to Gentry's.

"It's a neat exercise for anyone living in the wildland interface," she said. "It gives us a chance to practice. It sure beats the real thing."

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