Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Officer receives Medal of Valor for bravery during acid spill

Officer Jason Findley was driving home from his overnight shift the morning of November 30, 2009, when he came upon an environmental disaster.

It was a little after 7 a.m., and Officer Findley had changed out of his uniform and into street clothes. He was driving his personal car north on Interstate 35 after completing his shift at East Patrol Division. Traffic started coming to a stop as he approached the curvy, temporary lanes in the Paseo Bridge construction zone near Front Street.

Officer Findley saw an overturned tanker truck a short distance in front of him, blocking all lanes of traffic. He called dispatchers and told them a significant traffic jam was possible. He got out of his car to see if he could help the truck’s driver out of the cabin when he saw a vapor cloud coming out of the truck’s tank. He then saw a black sticker on the tank saying the chemicals inside were hazardous. They were later determined to be hydrochloric acid. He realized the chemicals were likely leaking on the ground and creating the vapor, so he called dispatchers to warn emergency responders about the hazardous materials present so they could properly prepare for the spill and take safety precautions.

Despite the danger of being close to the chemicals, and despite being off duty and not in uniform or a police car, and despite having no police equipment available, Officer Findley realized he had to get innocent motorists out of the way so they wouldn’t be harmed by the vapors. Working outside in the chemical’s vapors with no protection, Officer Findley was able to get nearby cars moved out of the way. He began redirecting traffic by putting out and rearranging some of the construction cones located in the area. Then, he cleared a path for responding rescuers so they could get the truck driver out of the truck and to a hospital and begin clean-up of the spill.

After he was relieved by on-duty officers who arrived, Officer Findley left the scene in his car, intending to drive home. But after driving a very short distance, he began to have trouble breathing and swallowing and stopped the car. An ambulance transported Officer Findley to nearby North Kansas City Hospital, where he needed to be decontaminated and treated for respiratory damage caused by the hydrochloric acid fumes. He is now nearly fully recovered from his exposure.

Sergeant Timothy Teague said Officer Findley had nothing available to him at the time of the incident but his training and a take-charge persona. He said, “At any time, Officer Findley could have removed himself from the scene and continued on home using an alternate route without risking his own personal safety. Instead, he exposed himself to potentially debilitating injury to ensure the safe evacuation of innocent people.”