The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

May 22, 2013

Training goes beyond fires

OTTUMWA — Our firefighters aren't afraid to run into a fire, said one official, but when it comes to a Hazmat situation, they walk.

On Wednesday, the Ottumwa Fire Department was on the grounds of Cargill Meat Solutions, training as realistically as possible for their response to a toxic chemical accident.

"This here is systematic," said Deputy Chief Cory Benge of the OFD, pointing out the training area. "That's why you don't see [people] rushing around."

That's why they train, too, said Josh Stevens, the Wapello County Emergency Management Coordinator. While no one is rushing, he said, personnel must still be efficient. The businesses that work with emergency response teams, he said, know how important it is. In fact, Cargill has its own onsite hazmat team.

Fire Chief Tony Miller said the OFD team will respond to industrial accidents in 11 counties protected by the department and their hazmat partners in the Southeast Iowa Hazardous Materials Response Group.

"You can't skip a step. You can't make a mistake or people pay," said Miller.

Going into the situation, for example, to rescue an injured worker near a dangerous chemical leak, doesn't even begin until an incident commander, a safety officer and others have determine how rescuers are going to get out. In the hazmat truck, staff members were researching the type of chemical that has plumed out into the environment. During Wednesday's training, three metal tubs were set up outside. When rescuers come out of the "hot zone," they will line up and stop at each of the three stations: Each was manned by a firefighter in a more basic "Level B" protective suit whose job was to scrub the contaminated surface of the suits worn by rescuers.

The rescuers are in "Level A" protective suits. Whereas most clothing is designed to "breath," this stuff worn by firefighters entering the toxic situation, said Benge, has to be basically airtight, otherwise, hazardous chemicals get in. But that makes the suits very hot. They may need to rotate firefighters in and out of the scene.

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