Emergency response to blast commended | SteamboatToday.com

Emergency response to blast commended

Brad Bolchunos/Steamboat Today

— Officials on Monday commended the emergency response in the Good News building explosion.

Investigators on Sunday ruled out criminal activity as a cause of the explosion, which ripped through the building shortly after noon Thursday and started a fire that engulfed the entire structure in flames.

Occupants fled and dug through debris to escape. The incident injured 24 people and sent 18 to the hospital

"There were about five times over the course of the event that we felt there might be somebody left in the building," fire chief and incident commander Jim Haugness said Monday. Reports of missing people who worked in one of the building's shops or two restaurants, as well as witnesses who described people trapped and screaming, continued to circulate as firefighters battled the blaze, he said.

"We are very fortunate in not having anybody killed," Haugness said.

Firefighters were called at 12:13, and were on the scene in four minutes.

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"I think the main success of the operation was the inner-agency cooperation," Haugness said.

Emergency workers were able to keep priorities in focus. For example, firefighters managed to limit the exposure of the fire and prevent it from spreading to the Alpiner Lodge next door, he said.

Haugness, communications director Mike Loth and others hailed annual mass casualty drills as the reason fire, ambulance, police, sheriff, search and rescue, and other agencies coordinated so well.

Keith Lightfoot of Routt Memorial Hospital said last year's mass casualty drill at the regional airport in Hayden prepared medical crews to deal with last Thursday's emergency. "It went like clockwork," he said. "We had good information… and accurate injury assessments."

Guy Loughridge of Search and Rescue noted the successful establishment of a victim assistance center at the Overlook Lodge, communications aid from US West, and food and shelter offered by the Salvation Army and Red Cross.

Chuck Vale, county emergency services director, said nearly 460 people and 90 agencies from the response community were involved – not to mention businesses and individuals who offered assistance during the explosion and ensuing temporary evacuation of homes. Gas was shut off to 1, 472 homes and businesses as a precaution after the explosion.

A more formal critique of the explosion response will come soon, Vale said. But emergency preparation already has improved, he said.

The state office of emergency management, with the federal Emergency Management Agency, last month awarded Routt County a $2,000 grant, citing the efforts of Vale and his staff to conduct full-scale exercises.

Commissioners commended city officials and county employees who aided victims in Thursday's blast, which occurred across the street from the county courthouse.

"people were taking their coats off and laying them on the sidewalk to protect the injured," treasurer Ken Sigley said.