Emergency personnel prepare for Hazmat situations

Published 9:54 pm Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Four Picayune firefighters attended Hazmat training to better prepare them for terrorist attacks or accidents.

A previous Weapons of Mass Destruction seminar trained three members of department on incident command in the instance of a terrorist attacks or emergency situations. Incident command focused on how various agencies would work together to handle emergency situations. This most recent training focused on how to handle dangerous substances, such as nerve agents, in the event of a terrorist attack or an accidental chemical spill, said Deputy Fire Chief John Mark Mitchell.

Both sets of training were conducted in Anniston Ala.

Attending the training were Mitchell and Picayune firefighters John Albert Mitchell, Rod Storrs and Louis Moak, according to a press release from the department. They were at the training from June 18 to June 22.

The training made John A. Mitchell realize how easy it would be for a terrorist to release a harmful agent in a community.

“It’s easier than you think for something like that to happen,” Mitchell said. “You hear about terrorists in other places, but it could happen right here just as easily.”

During his training, Mitchell said he learned how to spot potential terrorist activity. Trainees were instructed to look for devices that could potentially disperse harmful agents and other booby traps, Mitchell said. They were not instructed on how to disarm such devices but rather to clear the area and notify other agencies, such as the FBI if such a device was found, said Training Officer Barry Lee.

He also was sent into a controlled environment wearing protective gear where a live nerve agent was released. Dept. Chief John Mark Mitchell said before entering into the live agent training, each participant had blood drawn for comparison after the training. The before and after testing was to ensure the suits had done their job to protect participants from agent infection.

Triage techniques also were covered in the training so emergency responders could determine what kind of medical attention victims would need. In the instance of infection with a nerve agent, trainees were shown how to administer two shots, one to counter the effects of the agent and another to increase the heart rate to spread the first shot through the body quicker, Dept. Chief Mitchell said.

All classes are instructed by Homeland Security at no cost to the Picayune Fire Department or city tax payers, Dept. Chief Mitchell said.

Representatives from many facets of the emergency responder world participated in the training. Participants included people from EMS to military personnel so they all learned to work together in emergency situations. This was achieved by breaking up groups of people who came from the same department so they would work with individuals not only from other departments, but also from different parts of the country. By working with people from other parts of the country, trainees will gain experience to work together in emergencies that call for outside help. That could mean emergency responders from Picayune would assist other areas, Dept. Chief Mitchell said.

Currently six Picayune fire fighters have received the training, but Lee said he hopes to have about 10 firefighters trained, since the training is free to the department.

Dept. Chief Mitchell said he has had people ask him why he attended the training. He said the training better helps him understand what is required of his men.

“If I’m going to send them into a situation, I have to know what they are doing and their limitations,” Mitchell said.