A downtown street in the capital city was cordoned off for a time Thursday afternoon. Des Moines Fire Department spokesman, Brian O’Keefe, says a worker at a big insurance company sparked an alert.
Shortly after noon, an employee at ING found a small zip-lock envelope with white powder in a rest room. They told supervisors, who weren’t sure what to do with it so they called the hazardous materials team. Fire and emergency crews responded, blocking off street.
O’Keefe says they didn’t evacuate the building but isolated the people inside and restricted access. The team got a police department test kit and the powder tested positive for a narcotic. Officials don’t want to say just which narcotic, as the investigation continues, but the public safety alert was ended.
O’Keefe says the first responders don’t object to being called out in a case when people aren’t quite sure if there’s a threat or not. "In today’s environment, we respect that the employees or the business’s policies are to contact us, " O’Keefe says, "unless you have somebody there that’s witnessed someone drop it, or has claimed it, you don’t know the circumstances and it’s quite possible it could have been threatening to someone, whether it was accidental or intentional."
He says sometimes they find substances that are suspected of being illegal drugs, but if they test as "unknown" the crews have to expand the situation to a full-blown hazmat response. O’Keefe says they’re glad to be responding to far fewer meth labs than the crews did up till recent years.