Local emergency responders hit the books

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 16, 2003

The weather remained relatively cool last week, but that didn’t matter if you were in an airtight tyvek suit.

A number of local police officers, fire fighters and EMTs participated in a class from Oct. 7 &045; 9 dealing with handling a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) incident. A written test was administered as part of the class, but a majority of the time was spent doing hands-on activities. And that included wearing a protective tyvek suit, which feels like a tarp, but is completely airtight.

Howard arranged for the class to take place because he wanted those emergency responders who aren’t members of the hazardous materials unit to know how to protect themselves and those around them.

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Howard said many people may think of a WMD incident as involving terrorists or a nuclear bomb, but that isn’t necessarily the case. One example of a WMD event would be placing an explosive device near a building where chemicals are housed.

The class dealt with defensive operations, which included learning how to stop a chemical leak, for example. Offensive operations, which wasn’t taught at last week’s class, would involve learning how to plug that chemical leak.

One part of the class had students learning how to stop chemicals from leaking from an overturned 18-wheeler. In order to stop the leak, though, students had to put on the tyvek suits.

Howard noted that students wore their own clothes beneath the suit, which added to the heat. They then had two pairs of gloves, boots, a self-contained breathing apparatus and an air tank on their backs weighing 18 pounds.

Howard said that being in a suit for just a matter of moments would cause someone to be drenched in sweat.

Students also learned how to decontaminate someone in a breached suit. If a protective suit had a tear in it, the wearer would quickly be hosed down with water as others ripped the suit off him. Water would continue to be sprayed onto the contaminated person once the suit was off. He would then be placed under the care of emergency medical technicians.

Howard said the class was taught by instructors from Texas A&M. The instructors brought their own training equipment and the class didn’t cost Selma and Dallas County citizens anything.

Funds for the class were provided by the Office of Domestic Preparedness, a federal agency within the Office of Homeland Security.