Airmen assist with sanitation inspections after water contamination

Master Sgt. Gary Fletcher and Master Sgt. Marty Snyder assisted Kanawha County officials and other military personnel with more than 1600 site inspections following the chemical spill that contaminated the Charleston area’s water supply. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle)

Master Sgt. Gary Fletcher and Master Sgt. Marty Snyder assisted Kanawha County officials and other military personnel with more than 1600 site inspections following the chemical spill that contaminated the Charleston area’s water supply. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle)

Martinsburg, W.Va. -- Two airmen from the 167th Airlift Wing's Medical Group assisted the Kanawha County Health Department with facility sanitation inspections in mid-January after the water system was contaminated with a chemical used to wash impurities from coal.

Master Sgt. Marty Snyder, a public health technician, and Master Sgt. Gary Fletcher, a bio-environmental engineer, inspected 60 sites, including restaurants, bars, schools, tattoo and body piercing studios, and a private jet kitchen, ensuring proper water flushing and sanitizing procedures were followed.

"We went through a list of questions of what we needed to look at to make sure they did their proper water flushing procedures: 15 minutes hot, 5 minutes cold water, run your ice machine for at least three cycles, replace filters on ice machines and soda fountains," Snyder said.

Fletcher said they also verified that food that was prepped from time of the incident back was thrown away and made sure all cookware and utensils were sanitized.

When Snyder and Fletcher saw the crisis in the news they agreed that it wasn't a matter of if they would be going to Charleston but a matter of when they would be going.

The following Tuesday they were on their way to Charleston with orders to review the 130th Airlift Wing's water flushing and distribution plan and to make sure that proper testing procedures were in place.

When they arrived at the 130th, they learned that plans had changed when Wing Commander Col. Jerome Gouhin informed them that the Joint Operation Center was tasking them to the Health Department.
"Wednesday morning we reported to the Health Department on Lee St.," Snyder said. "From the beginning it was a strong working relationship."

Fletcher agreed that the military and civilian departments worked well together.
"They accepted us in, they wanted our help, when we got there we fit in and worked with them right off the bat," Fletcher said.

Snyder, who was unfamiliar with the Charleston area, was sent out on his own the first day with a cell phone, a sanitation checklist and a long list of restaurants to inspect.
"I got lost on Bridge St. and someone actually came out into the street and was waving me down," Snyder said. The business owner, eager to get his restaurant reopened, accurately assumed Snyder was doing inspections. The business was on Snyder's list; he did the inspection and was able to help get the establishment opened for business.

"All the facilities we dealt with were very welcoming and they were happy to have us," Snyder said.

Snyder did 20 restaurant inspections his first day on duty.

Fletcher, not having formal public health inspection training, teamed up with a county sanitarian and got a crash course the first day, inspecting six school kitchens and a private jet kitchen.

Snyder and Fletcher teamed up the remainder of the week, inspecting 17 establishments on Thursday. Friday they did 17 re-inspections of facilities that were not cleared to open after their first inspection.

The Kanawha County Health Department had a total of 1600 inspections to perform, 300 of those being in nearby Boone County.

"The economy took a hit, there was a big push to get facilities opens and get the kids back to school," said Fletcher.

Snyder said initially there were only 25-30 people doing the inspections but as the week progressed members of the West Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio and D.C. National Guard civil support teams were assisting with the inspections. By the end of the day on Friday 98% of the inspections were complete.

"At first they didn't have enough people to open 1600 restaurants within 24 hours (after water restrictions were lifted) so there was a strong need to have extra people on hand," said Snyder.

Adding, "with us there, we were able to open facilities within their time frame, so we actually met their requirements."