Eight volunteer firefighters go east to train with Homeland Security
ANNISTON, ALA.—The Gunnison Valley Fire Department (GVFD) wants to establish a certified hazardous materials (hazmat) team to serve the Gunnison Valley and surrounding communities.
To that end, the GVFD sent a crew of eight volunteer firefighters to a week-long certification course in Anniston, Ala. directed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The training took place at a former military base DHS had converted into a dedicated, secure hazmat training facility, says Zachary Jensen, GVFD assistant chief.
The week-long class was offered to firefighters, police, doctors, nurses, EMTs and other first-responders.
The course ran nine hours per day. Among other things, the course covered the kinds of containers commonly used to transport hazardous materials, such as semi-trailers, train cars, 150-lb. pressurized cylinders and 55-gallon drums.
“This was a very eye-opening experience to all of us (to learn) just how many hazards are located within our communities,” Jensen said.
There was a lot of hands-on training, he said, much of which was conducted while wearing hazmat protective suits.
“These are the suits you see on TV that are fully enclosed,” Jensen said. “They made us look like aliens or something. While making us be fully suited up, it was amazing how fast you started to sweat since we were fully contained and it was instant 100-percent humidity inside.”
Jensen said the training course taught firefighters how to stop the leaks on any of the common hazardous material containers.
“This was a very fun experience because as a small department, we have never seen any of these items, let alone play(ed) with all of them.”
Besides learning how to use repair kits, Jensen said the crew was taught how to use monitoring systems to help first responders evacuate an area.
Jensen said the group was taught that handling a hazmat incident involves the designation of “zones.” Zones are terms used to define how dangerous a hazmat-related area was.
A deadly hazmat-contaminated area is known as the hot zone, Jensen says. The area where decontamination equipment is maintained to clean off emergency responders that have been in the hot zone is known as the warm zone. Finally, the cold zone is where non-hazmat- trained emergency personnel can be.
The GVFD volunteers were required to take a series of tests. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administered two tests. Another test was moderated by Alabama State University.
“For Utah to honor our training and see us as hazmat techs, the Alabama State test is the one we had to pass,” Jensen said. “Our ultimate goal with attending this class is to start up a Sanpete County hazmat team. Throughout central Utah, there are very few hazmat techs, let alone teams. The state was very happy with our large commitment in wanting to become hazmat- tech certified.”
Jensen said if GVFD does establish a Sanpete County hazmat team, it will have to cover a very large area— much of central, eastern and southeastern Utah.
The federal government paid for the entire training, Jensen said. “They are very involved in getting as many people as they can hazmat certified. As a fully volunteer fire department, we were the only people there not being paid in some way.
“We had to leave our full-time jobs to take part in this, but all of us find it to be a very valuable training for our community and the surrounding communities.”