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Fire drill tests AMSOIL teams

Superior firefighters respond to AMSOIL for a drill on Thursday morning in Superior. Jed Carlson /

The call came at 10:09 a.m. Thursday, a fire and spill at the AMSOIL facility on Susquehanna Avenue.

When Superior firefighters pulled up to the business, a key question got asked that upended the entire scenario.

"Right away the first engine captain asked if everyone was accounted for," said Battalion Chief Scott Gordon of the Superior Fire Department.

The answer was "No."

That changed a fire call into a life safety incident, adding the need for a rescue, medical team and different tactics. Firefighters also had to deal with a leak outside the facility.

Response to the real-time drill, Gordon said, went well. The victim was rescued and sent to a Duluth hospital; the fire was extinguished; the leak was contained and spill clean-up took place.

To watching media, there was a distinct lack of panic to be seen through the operation.

"Calm is contagious," said Scott Davis, vice president of operations for AMSOIL.

For years, the Superior business and fire department have worked together to address emergency preparedness. Firefighters take annual tours of the facility, provide training through the department's paid-for services and set up big drills like Thursday's every three years or so.

"We don't respond to these types of incidents very often at all, which is our goal," Gordon said. "Just because we don't plan for the worst-case scenario doesn't mean we don't want to be ready for them."

At the last big AMSOIL training, employees were told repeatedly that it was a drill, Davis said, but they still thought it was real. Some employees put their own lives in danger to help the victim, their co-worker. At least a dozen were left in tears.

This time, all but one thing went to plan.

No one called 911 to start the drill, Gordon said, so he had to prompt them.

"We are preparing to make sure our employees stay safe, our facility stays safe, our business goes forward and we're protecting the environment," Davis said. "All of those things were tested today."

Employees realized the incident was beyond their control and stepped back, letting firefighters do their job. But they provided key information, such as where the gasoline tank shut-off valve was located and what entrance to use. They also supported firefighter efforts through AMSOIL's spill, medical and incident response teams.

The teams communicated through text messages and radios, grabbing needed equipment and "go bags" full of critical information as they went.

AMSOIL spokeswoman Erica Danielski said working closely with firefighters builds a connection. Exercises like Thursday's test and strengthen it.

While the firefighters train regularly at the fire hall, these on-site drills are a unique opportunity.

"It's great when we get a business or industry willing to do this in real time," Gordon said.

In particular, this drill tested AMSOIL's incident command structure and how it communicates with the fire department.

"They're very proactive in their emergency preparedness," Gordon said of the Superior business. "They train in-house and every once in a while we try to test how it works at the same time with us."

Firefighters knew there was a drill planned, Gordon said, but had no idea what the scenario would be. He pointed out that the first engine captain on the scene asked the critical question.