In less than an hour, Lexington's Jacobson Park turned from a family friendly destination to a mobile decontamination center capable of treating thousands of people exposed to chemical nerve agents from the Blue Grass Army Depot.
Of course, there wasn't really a release of nerve gas, but several first responders acted as though there had been.
The depot in Richmond is one of the few places left in the nation where there are stockpiles of chemical weapons. That's why Lexington firefighters and police officers, emergency management officials and other government personnel participated in the drill Wednesday at Jacobson Park.
In the event of a breach, Richmond residents who were exposed to nerve agents would be evacuated to surrounding counties. In Lexington, they would stop at Jacobson Park, on Richmond Road near Interstate 75.
"It's an old stockpile, it's a deteriorating stockpile, so every year we simulate a release of that chemical from the rockets in which they're stored," Lexington fire Maj. Gregg Bayer said.
The goal is to test the city's response time, effectiveness and communication in the event that Madison County residents have to be evacuated because of a weapons breach.
In 20 minutes, firefighters from Lexington's Hazardous Materials Units had constructed three decontamination tents: one for men, one for women and one for patients who are unable to walk. Within an hour, communication lines were established, thousands of gallons of clean water were heated, and patients began treatment. Inside the tents, patients disrobed, showered and put on plastic gowns before reporting for treatment.
The 50 patients, sporting cuts, bruises and rashes that were applied with makeup, actually were volunteers from Eastside Technical Center's homeland security program, local churches and the Citizen Fire Academy.
Nearby, people fishing in the reservoir and walking dogs stopped to watch as firefighters, wearing stark-white, self-contained hazmat suits, worked.
During the drill, Division of Emergency Management coordinated a citywide response among volunteers, hospitals and public safety officials from their office on Martin Luther King Boulevard.
The city tested two new systems: a tracking system that can help distribute patients evenly among local hospitals, and communications protocols with 10 other counties around Madison County, which were conducting their own drills.
Lexington was evaluated by emergency managers from Colorado who are certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They made suggestions and discussed the response with Lexington officials after the drill ended, but a final report won't be available for months, said John Bobel, Lexington emergency management spokesman.
A chemical weapons leak was the scenario envisioned for Wednesday's drill, but the training helps prepare Lexington for any high-casualty emergency it could face, from weather to leaks of other hazardous material, Bobel said.
"This is why we train," he said. "In case of the real deal, we're ready to go."