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Substance turns out shaving powder
Post facilities closed short time
Police and the Fort Stewart Fire Department Hazardous Decontamination Team respond to an unknown substance found at the installation post office Monday. - photo by Photo by Denise Etheridge
A package tested for anthrax but found to contain powdered shaving cream put Fort Stewart on alert late Monday morning. Emergency responders first shut down the Winn Army Community Hospital emergency department and then the post office on Hase Road when a postal worker showed up in the ER complaining of burning in her lungs. Both facilities reopened about two and a half hours later once the substance was tested and deemed harmless.
“Our response today shows how seriously we value the safety and well-being of our community members here at Fort Stewart,” Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield garrison commander Col. Kevin Milton said Monday. “You always have to respond to an incident like this like it’s the real thing every time. This was a great response today to a real-world incident.”
The military police arrived at the post office and set up an outer cordon, Milton said, and the Fort Stewart Fire Department Hazardous Decontamination Team arrived with testing devices. The colonel said the team performed three different tests in about an hour’s time.
“Over 5,000 individual chemical compounds were tested,” he said.
Milton said the emergency department was locked down prior to the post office lock-down, and once it was determined the worker came from the post office, that facility was locked down.  He explained the emergency department was not evacuated; rather, the patients and staff who were present when the worker came in were not allowed to leave and new patients and staffers were barred from the ER. Except for the one postal worker who went to the emergency room, the other postal employees followed proper protocol by waiting for police and the hazmat team to arrive, he added.
Winn commander Col. Paul Cordts said the emergency room was locked down because hospital staff was concerned the postal worker’s symptoms were caused by handling a package that may have contained hazardous chemicals.
“Our initial concern was for anthrax,” Cordts said. The colonel said the hospital immediately activated its emergency preparedness plan. New patients seeking emergency care were sent to the primary care clinic and had any critically ill patients arrived they would have been sent to other area hospitals, he said. Winn has memorandums of understanding with local civilian hospitals, Cordts said.
“Had it in fact been anthrax it would have taken days to decontaminate (the emergency room),” he said. Hospital staff set up a decontamination team and “we were prepared to decontaminate that patient,” he said.
Hospital workers also wore masks and were careful about making skin contact. Anthrax can get on the skin as well as in the lungs, Cordts said.
Winn has activated its emergency plan three times in the past two months.
In addition to Monday’s code orange hazmat event, an armed man took three people hostage at the hospital on Sept. 6 and elementary school children on post were recently exposed to a cleaning agent, Cordts said. These events were resolved without injury, he added.
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